Film Review: Shaft (2000)

Also known as: Shaft Returns (working title)
Release Date: June 16th, 2000
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton, Shane Salerno, Richard Price
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Dan Hedaya, Busta Rhymes, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Lynne Thigpen, Pat Hingle, Mekhi Phifer, Elizabeth Banks, Gordon Parks, Andre Royo, Daniel von Bargen, Issac Hayes (uncredited), Lawrence Taylor (cameo)

Scott Rudin Productions, New Deal Productions, Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Golf is phat… Tiger Wooo, Tiger Wooo, I like him.” – Peoples Hernandez

While I did dig this when it came out in 2000, I hadn’t seen it since then. I’ve gotta say, it hasn’t aged well at all.

This film feels like a relic and it feels like it is about five years older than it is. It had more cheesy, ’90s action flavor than it did the ’70s blaxploitation aesthetic it was trying to recapture and homage.

Shaft, the 2000 version, is just a mundane, boring movie that surprisingly had a good director and an incredible cast that couldn’t keep this ship afloat. It’s a sinker and a stinker.

I guess, despite initially enjoying it, there just wasn’t enough beyond one viewing that ever really made me want to revisit this. And I only did so now because I haven’t reviewed it and also because I wanted to revisit it to re-familiarize myself with Sam Jackson’s incarnation of Shaft before watching the 2019 version, which is now streaming on HBO.

Overall, Jackson was the perfect choice for a modern Shaft. I also liked seeing Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale in this, as the villains. However, despite the awesomeness that was Wright’s Dominican accent, everything just feels pedestrian and dry.

There are no real surprises in the film and it plays out quite sloppily. It’s a clunky story with a few subplots that all seem forced and unnecessary. In fact, the movie is overly complicated and it feels like it is more into showcasing yuppie racism than it is at telling a good plot or making you care about any of the characters in any way that is deeper than just surface level. It certainly needs more character development than plot layers. The movie gets lost within itself and if you don’t care about anyone, what’s the point?

It’s not a poorly acted film but it is poorly written and directed. John Singleton has proved, specifically before this, that he is capable of so much more.

I guess this is okay if you go into it as just a mindless 99 minute action romp but it’s nowhere near as cool as it thinks it is and it pales in comparison to the original film it wanted so hard to be.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Shaft franchise, as well as late ’90s/’00s Samuel Jackson action movies.

Film Review: Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

Release Date: May 25th, 1994
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: characters by Danilo Bach, Daniel Petrie Jr.
Music by: Nile Rodgers
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Hector Elizando, Theresa Randle, Timothy Carhart, John Saxon, Alan Young, Gilbert R. Hill, Bronson Pinchot, Stephen McHattie, Michael Bowen, Al Leong (uncredited), Al Green (cameo), George Lucas (cameo), Joe Dante (cameo), Ray Harryhausen (cameo), John Singleton (cameo)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[his last words] Axel, you on a coffee break? Go get that son of a bitch.” – Inspector Todd

The words “they waited too long” definitely apply to what was Beverly Hills Cop III.

This was one hell of a dud that lost many of the key players and only brought back Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Gil Hill… just so they could kill him in the opening sequence, and Bronson Pinchot, who only appeared in the first movie in two very minor scenes.

Additionally, this closing chapter in the franchise was mostly devoid of any real humor, as Eddie Murphy barely told any jokes, barely did his signature laugh and kind of just zombie walked through his scenes giving one of the flattest performances of his career.

In fact, his scenes with Bronson Pinchot actually show how dry Murphy is in this, as Pinchot steals the scenes right out from under him.

Judge Reinhold was made to look like a total doofus and they ignored what was established with his character in the previous film, which saw him open up and reveal that he was a gun nut similar to Eugene Tackleberry from the Police Academy movies. Here, he just carries a tiny pistol, looks the opposite of badass and pretty much just acts like a total dope.

Being that this was directed by John Landis is absolutely baffling. Landis is a top notch director that made several classics over the course of a decade and a half before this movie. I’m not sure if the script ended up getting butchered or if a lot was left on the cutting room floor but this is, hands down, one of the worst things Landis has ever had attached to his name.

Harold Faltermeyer didn’t return to score this film and man, it really shows. The score is generic as fuck and the famous Axl Foley theme is reworked and completely destroyed by brass instruments, completely taking away from the funky synth grooves that we got in the first two pictures.

In fact, when the brass gets real heavy in the score, it almost sounds like its trying to emulate a James Bond movie. I guess that’s fitting as Bronson Pinchot essentially plays a ripoff of Q and Axl Foley has a bunch of weird gadgets to use ala Bond.

I think that the franchise should’ve just ended with two. This proves that it’s really, really hard to catch lightning in a bottle for a third time.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Beverly Hills Cop movies, as well as the 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon films.

Film Review: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Release Date: May 13th, 1991 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Larry Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Nia Long, Tyra Ferrell, Redge Green, Dedrick D. Gobert, Regina King, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Whitman Mayo

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Why is it that there is a gun shop on almost every corner in this community?” – Furious Styles, “Why?” – The Old Man, “I’ll tell you why. For the same reason that there is a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves.” – Furious Styles

Boyz N The Hood was a movie that had a pretty big impact on me in my middle school years. I was going into 7th grade when it came out but by the time it hit video, I rented it a lot.

What lured me into it was the edge the film had with Ice Cube in it, a rapper I listened to almost daily back then. But beyond that, I was pulled into John Singleton’s unique knack for storytelling. While this is well acted, a lot of the story and emotion comes through in more of a visual way.

Unlike many of the “gangsta” films that came out after and were inspired by this and Marion Van Peebles’ New Jack City, this one is truly a masterpiece on just about every level. And, once seeing this, it is easy to understand how this film gave birth to a new genre in the early ’90s.

To start, the acting by just about everyone in this picture is superb. The main cast delivers their performances with passion and gusto.

I love how in your face Ice Cube can be but there is a subtle gentleness under the surface that really comes out in his final scene, which is still maybe the best he’s ever been onscreen.

Cuba Gooding Jr. gave a somewhat understated performance that worked really well for his character and when the point comes in the movie for him to show real emotion, it has an impact that might have been lacking without his cool and chill demeanor leading up to it.

I also like Morris Chestnut, who is mostly just a regular guy here. He’s got issues but he’s a guy with a bright future, which makes his fate in the film extremely tough to process no matter how many times you’ve seen this play out.

The real scene stealer is Laurence Fishburne and while that shouldn’t be surprising, this was pretty early in his career and even though he’d been in many films before this, it is his role here that put his career path on a strong upward trajectory.

It’s also worth pointing out how beautiful and perfect Stanley Clarke’s score is. The music conveys real emotion and it grounds the drama in a way that the mostly hip-hop soundtrack can’t on its own. There is a great balance between hip-hop, soul and the score itself. However, in contrast to what became typical of this style of film after Boyz N the Hood, this doesn’t use a ton of rap music. It’s there where it needs to be but this wasn’t a movie that was trying to sell soundtrack tie-ins like everything that copied it. And it’s not that that’s a bad thing and I didn’t even notice it back in the day but seeing this film now, it was kind of refreshing knowing that the filmmaker relied heavily on his composer to assist with the tone and the movement of the plot. Side note: Stanley Clarke’s first score was Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which got him an Emmy nomination.

This is a heavy and emotional film; it works because it feels genuine and real. It has aged tremendously well and is kind of timeless, even if it is set in a specific era that comes with its own stylistic and cultural tropes.

Singleton, with Boyz N the Hood, crafted a perfect motion picture that deserves to be called a masterpiece and is still above all the films that came along and tried to emulate it. Not bad for a first time director.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Menace II SocietySouth CentralColors, Baby Boy, Higher Learning and Poetic Justice.