The Shaft (2001)
By: Devon B. on January 3, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eagle Entertainment (Australia). Region All PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 107 minutes
The Movie
Director: Dick Maas
Starring: James Marshall, Naomi Watts, Eric Thal, Edward Herrmann, Michael Ironside, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya
Screenplay: Dick Maas
Country: USA
AKA: Down
Take the stairs! Take the stairs! For God's sake, take the stairs! No, wait, that's The Lift. Just in case that movie left you begging for more, here is…The Shaft. Actually, there are three lifts involved, so the movie probably should be called The Shafts, but that sounds like a bad spin-off vehicle for Richard Roundtree.

The Shaft stars Naomi Watts, who has made a bit of a name for herself in the horror genre with The Ring films and a recent release about a giant simian or something. Despite Watts being plastered all over the DVD sleeve, the star is actually the loveable James Marshall, the monotone wonder who got himself spanked by Brian Denehy in Gladiator (the boxing movie, not the sword and sandals epic).

The Shaft starts with a peeping Tom scene; you know you're in good hands when a movie cuts straight to nudity. A lift at New York's Millennium Building is acting odd, and elevator mechanic Marshall and his partner are called in. Initially an explanation that owes much to Short Circuit is offered for the lift's behaviour. Marshall slowly begins looking for a reason for what's going on. The lifts keep doing bad things, like decapitating one guy's shoddily rendered CG head. Marshall continues slowly delving into the mystery, and is eventually joined by Watts, who in a real stretch is playing a reporter. If you're watching the film for Watts, be aware she really isn't around much for the first half of the movie. Michael Ironside occasionally pops in as a German scientist who sounds very American. Maybe he had the same linguistic expert who showed Kevin Costner how to sound British for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?

Written and directed by Dick Maas, The Shaft is brimming with bad jokes and excessive use of the word 'fuck.' The idea of a killer elevator was very silly, both times, but The Shaft is plagued with the same problems that befell Jack Frost (the killer snowman movie, not the Michael Keaton epic). The movie would be much funnier if it didn't try to have its characters constantly using 'witty' banter. At least here, as opposed to Jack Frost, the elevator itself is played straight. Extremely choppy editing that disrupts the dialog isn't helpful, either. The film also suffers because none of the characters are likeable. For example, Marshall's partner is a total jerk who tells Marshall to keep cool to prevent a skirmish, then minutes latter freaks out at a guy for simply trying to help make his job easier.

What's really odd is that The Shaft doesn't look like a cheap movie, but has bad performances from most of the cast. Granted, it probably didn't have a particularly high budget, but the fee to acquire the rights to a certain Aerosmith song probably cost more than the entire budget of smaller, better, independent films. While not all the CG is great, like the aforementioned decapitation, some if it is okay, which also suggests a higher budget, as well as a stable of known, if not overly famous, actors. The fact that many of the cast have given good, or at least passable, performances elsewhere is also odd. Perhaps it's the dialog that makes most of the performers sound stilted, or the direction. George Lucas recently proved that no matter how high your budget is, or how talented your cast, you can get wooden performances if the director is an idiot. Regardless of why, the acting in The Shaft is not good.

The DVD claims the film involves the death of several of New York's finest, which to me would mean their cops. Either I completely missed that scene, or the synopsis is erroneous. But should anyone really trust a sleeve has Ron Perlman's name spelled two different ways and features cover art lifted almost directly from a crappy 80s Donald Sutherland movie?
The feature is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The print is sharp, featuring minimal grain, and only occasional specks.
The audio track is in Dolby Digital 2.0. The mix is clear and even, and the dialog is always discernable, even when it's not worth listening to.
Extra Features
A few completely irrelevant trailers. 'Standard Menu with Music' is listed on the sleeve, which I guess means that the main menu has music playing. When did this become noteworthy?
The Verdict
The Shaft is okay fluff, but needed to lose at least 15 minutes. The comedy should've been dropped as well, but I guess horror fans should expect painful attempts at comedy by now. This time I suspect Quentin Tarantino has as much to answer for as Kevin Williamson, so it's really like the worst of both worlds. Perhaps worth a rental when nothing good is in.
Movie Score
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