Samuel L. Jackson stars as John Shaft II, a relative of the original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree, coming back in a cameo), who works for the NYPD. Christian Bale appears as the villain, Walter Wade Jr.
Jackson, along with Roundtree, returned in 2019's Shaft.
This film provides examples of:
- All for Nothing: We never find out if Ms. Palmieri's testimony would have actually done anything to put Wade in jail, because Troy's mom (fed up with Wade evading justice repeatedly) just blows him away at the film's closure before they can even bring him into the courthouse.
- Bail Equals Freedom: Averted, which is surprising considering how fast and loose they are with the law in the rest of the movie. When Christian Bale's character jumps (no pun intended) bail by flying to Switzerland, he is immediately arrested the moment he sets foot back on American soil. Of course, he ends up getting released on bail by the judge again (highly unlikely in Real Life, given that he's proven himself a flight risk), making the whole exercise pointless, except as an example of what an entitled Jerkass the character is. His lawyer argues that taking away his passport is enough to eliminate him as a flight risk. The judge agrees... cue Bale's character calling Shaft from Switzerland to make fun of him. It's made blatantly clear that Bale's character's father is a very influential man, and the judge is making all the wrong calls either because he's in the father's pocket or someone higher up is. The victim's mother shoots Wade to death on the courthouse steps as he's leaving.
- Big "NO!": Peoples, immediately after his brother is shot and Walter Wade Jr., right before the victim's mother shoots him.
- Chekhov's Gun: Diane Palmieri's ID card. Wade steals it from her, threatening to kill her if she talks about his crime. Shaft finds it on his person, stained with the victim's blood, like his hands and her face (he grabbed her jaw during the threat.) Later, after Wade makes bail for a second time, Shaft openly reveals he has it, wiping the smug grin from his face instantaneously.
- Contrasting Sequel Main Character: Jackson's Shaft to Roundtree's. Shaft Jr is a cop (a Cowboy Cop, but a cop nonetheless) and far more action-oriented than Shaft, an anti-authoritarian PI who tended to sweet-talk information out of someone where possible, and was far more successful with women.
- Cowboy Cop: Jackson's Shaft, who when requested to turn in his badge does so by throwing it like a shuriken, causing it to embed itself in the wall next to a judge's head. Awesome? Very much so.
- Dirty Cop: Two of them.
- Dragon-in-Chief: Peoples Hernandez fulfills this role to Wade Jr. However, he eventually becomes a Dragon with an Agenda after Shaft unwittingly kills his brother in a gunfight halfway through the movie, getting into a fight with Wade Jr. and stabbing him in the hand in the process, showcasing that at least physically-wise he's Eviler Than Thou.
- Fake Shemp: Samuel L. Jackson was unavailable to shoot the sex scene in the opening credits sequence as he was filming The Cavemans Valentine. A body double was used to film the scene.
- Guns Akimbo: Shaft, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is shown wielding two guns in a shootout.
- The Klan: A black man named Trey was dining in a mainly "upper class" restaurant and was racially harassed by a Jerkass white diner named Wade. After ignoring the first few public insults, Trey walks over to Wade's table, cuts two holes in his cloth napkin, and puts it on top of Wade's head, where it resembles a KKK hood, to the laughter of some of the onlookers including his friends. Wade responds to this by beating Trey's head in with a metal pole, setting off the plot.
- Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Subverted. In the final showdown, it looks like Shaft and Peoples are about to engage in a one on one fight, but then Peoples pulls a hidden gun, forcing Shaft to shoot and kill him.
- Mama Bear: Trey's (Wade's victim) mother. She wishes justice by any means possible, and when Wade has already shown himself to be rich and influential enough to post bail twice (even after proving himself to be a flight risk) and evade justice for years, she decides that he will not escape a third time, and shoots him before he enters the courthouse for his third hearing.
- Non-Action Big Bad: Walter Wade Jr. is responsible for the murder that occurs, but he has Peoples Hernandez do most of the villainous actions in the movie. He never gets in a fight with Shaft, when he and Peoples get in a fight he gets his ass handed to him by Peoples (even getting stabbed in the hand) and the aforementioned murder he was capable of pulling off because he surprised Troy (his victim).
- Parental Abandonment: The 2019 sequel reveals that Roundtree's Shaft is actually the father of Jackson's Shaft, but for some strange unspecified reason, he was only pretending to be his uncle. Jackson's Shaft appears to be okay with it in this film as he happily calls him "Uncle J" upon their first onscreen interaction, but in the 2019 film, it's a factor in why they don't have the best relationship. There, Jackson's Shaft retorts that his father is the worst there is after his own son says that he is the worst father ever.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Walter Wade Jr. (played by Christian Bale) is a white supremacist who harasses a black man at a restaurant, and later kills him because the guy successfully dissed him.
- Remake Cameo: Richard Roundtree returns as the original John Shaft, the chess player addressed as "Mr P" is Gordon Parks, the director of Shaft and Shaft's Big Score. Isaac Hayes also makes an uncredited cameo.
- Revival: An attempt to revive the Shaft series/character with Jackson as the new lead, rather than a remake or reboot.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Shaft spends the whole movie trying to get a murderer put in prison... and then the victim's mother shoots the murderer anyways, rendering Shaft's efforts and pretty much the whole movie pointless. Though Shaft doesn't seem to mind anyway.
- Smug Snake: Big Bad Walter Wade Jr. is this for a good chunk of his screen time, practically bragging about murdering a black man in cold blood. From his initial arrest all the way through his second bail hearing, he seems confident he'll get away with it, even shooting Shaft an arrogant grin while they leave the courthouse... until Shaft reveals his trump card- the ID of eyewitness Diane Palmieri.
- Spin-Offspring: Samuel L. Jackson as the "nephew" (actually, son) of the original Shaft, played by Richard Roundtree in a supporting role. Apparently he passed his skills down to him as he's just as badass.
- Take This Job and Shove It: Shaft makes this point non-verbally by tossing his badge into a wall just over a judge's head.
- Vigilante Execution: How Wade dies. Mama Bear at work.
- Worth It: The victim's mother will likely be taken to jail for murder. But when said murder's victim is the smug bastard who killed your son and played the broken and corrupt judicial system like a fiddle, can you blame the lady?