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One cool cat


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Jen Levario
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
June 21, 2000
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

Samuel L. Jackson's version of black legend is not a shaft

Few roles in the past decade have called for a black actor to play anyone more authoritative than Meteor Man.

Powerful performances were inspired by historical figures like Malcolm X and Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter, but rare is the lead role for an African American sex symbol.

However, with the resurrection of the racially motivated "Shaft," Samuel L. Jackson reestablishes the name of the 1970s debonair detective and proves in a big way that black is back.

Almost 30 years after the first "Shaft" film was released, Jackson breathes life into The Man, echoing his previous roles in "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown."

Despite claims from actors like Denzel Washington that black men cannot be cast as sex symbols, the race card is part of Jackson's appeal in this NYPD Blue version of "007."

Jackson plays police detective Shaft, nephew to the original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree - who makes several appearances in the new film). He is a man who can cut it in uptown Manhattan but feels more at home in the gut of New York City.

Like his predecessor, he wraps himself in a tight turtleneck sweater and a closely cropped black beanie. And like his predecessor, he oozes coolness.

The only sex scene in the movie is a mangled montage of moans and body parts during the opening credits, but Jackson relies on innuendo to create sex appeal.

This is a man who will strut against traffic on a crowded street, flaunting his smooth leather jacket like a peacock in heat. He doesn't need sweat to show the audience he's hot.

His closest allies are Carmen (Vanessa Williams), more of a Cagney or Lacey than one of Charlie's Angels, and Rasaan (Busta Rhymes), a feisty, street-smart kid from the ghetto.

Christian Bale plays NYC big shot Walter Wade, the film's resident racist, and brings a new breed of American psycho to the screen. Wade kills a young black man in the first few minutes of the movie - sentencing himself to a lifetime of retaliation from Shaft.

It's not the most original plot in cinema history.

But it works. It is just as substantial as the summer's other hits, challenging the audience's senses instead of minds. This combination of well-known cast members, legendary status and "one bad ass mutha ... shut yo mouth" makes for an hour and a half of pure entertainment.

Jen Levario can be reached at catalyst@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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