NYPD Detective John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) is called in to investigate the racially motivated murder of Trey Howard (Mekhi Phifer), committed by Walter Wade, Jr. (Christian Bale), the son of a wealthy real estate tycoon. Shaft briefly meets a potential eyewitness to the murder, Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette), but she disappears soon after and cannot be found for the trial. Wade is released on bail and flees to Switzerland. Two years later, Wade returns and Shaft rearrests him for leaving the country. During his temporary incarceration at police headquarters, Wade meets Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), a Dominican drug lord. Wade relinquishes his passport and is released on bail again; in frustration Shaft resigns from the police force, promising to bring Wade to justice on his own terms. Worried that Shaft might find the missing eyewitness, Wade hires Peoples to find and kill her first. Shaft continues his search for Diane, enlisting the help of his friends Detective Carmen Vasquez (Vanessa L. Williams) and taxi driver Rasaan (Busta Rhymes). While visiting Diane’s uncooperative mother, Shaft and Carmen realise they are being followed by officers Jack Roselli (Dan Hedaya) and Jimmy Groves (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), who have been paid by Peoples to follow Shaft and get to Diane. Shaft finally finds her, but before they can talk, they are attacked by Peoples’s men. In the shootout, Shaft kills Peoples’s younger brother. Shaft, Diane, Rasaan, and Diane’s brother manage to escape to Rasaan’s apartment, but they are followed by Roselli and Groves. While at the apartment, Diane confesses that she saw the entire murder, and kept silent in return for a payoff from Wade’s father. When Peoples arrives at the location, another shootout takes place. Roselli and Groves, outed as corrupt, are killed by Carmen. In a face-off between Shaft and Peoples, Peoples insinuates that he’s been working for Wade, and Shaft kills him. Wade’s trial finally arrives. Before it can begin, however, he is gunned down by Trey’s mother, Carla Howard (Lynne Thigpen). In the police station, Shaft reiterates to Carmen that he prefers to be a private detective. A woman arrives, asking for Shaft to help her, claiming to have an abusive boyfriend. Shaft is initially reluctant, but when he sees her injury, he decides to help her anyway. Shaft, along with his uncle (Richard Roundtree), go together to confront the abusive boyfriend.
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