Reel Reviews | Shaft

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

Samuel L Jackson returns as John Shaft Jr. in the new comedy-action flick with the same name as its predecessors in Shaft.

After being in the middle of a shoot-out, Maya (Regina Hall) decides to take their son JJ away from his father, John Shaft, Jr. (Samuel L. Jackson) in order to protect him. JJ grows up without knowing or having any contact with his father save for the inappropriate and awkward presents he sends on JJ’s birthdays. JJ (Jessie T. Usher) grows up, makes friends, goes to college and gets a job as a Data Analyst in the FBI. When JJ’s childhood friend mysteriously turns up dead and his boss, Special Agent Vietti (Titus Welliver) refuses to investigate, he has no choice but to investigate on his own. JJ quickly realizes that he is in over his head and must turn to the man who abandoned him, his father, Shaft.

Written by Kenya Barris (ABC’s Black-ish) and Alex Barnow (ABC’s The Goldbergs) and directed by Tim Story (Barbershop, Ride Along 1&2), Shaft is the fifth movie of the series and is a direct sequel to the Jackson helmed film from 2000. However, as a total departure from its predecessors, Shaft 2019 is billed as a comedy which means unlike the films before this that had action with some comedy, this is a comedy with some action thrown in.

There is a lot that is wrong with this picture. Richard Roundtree, the original Shaft, returns for this film as Papa Shaft (instead of Uncle Shaft as he was in the last movie) when in actuality, Jackson is only 6 years younger than Roundtree. They try to cover this up with a not-so-clever joke about Junior looking older than Senior which may really be the case in the movie. Having Jackson play as nephew Shaft was a stretch but Shaft Jr. is almost downright unbelievable. Let’s try to ignore the fact that Regina Hall is almost two dozen years younger than Jackson and plays Shaft’s baby mama. (It’s plausible but…)

Let’s also try to ignore the fact that a whole lot of midtown Atlanta shows up in this movie which set in New York City. This may not be an easy catch for those who have not been to Atlanta but they don’t even throw in a landmark to allow anyone to be fooled into thinking the movie is in New York. How hard could it have been to actually shoot a couple of scenes in New York or even put them in front of a green screen to make it feel authentic?

The soundtrack. The original Shaft had an iconic soundtrack created by the incomparable Isaac Hayes. This soundtrack is a bit of a mess. There are some classic songs like Switch’s Love Over and Over Again Quincy Jones’ The Secret Garden and Rick James’ Mary Jane. While these songs are nostalgic, the Hayes soundtrack was cutting-edge, iconic and contemporary. This soundtrack is disjointed, meaningless and irrelevant to the movie.

Despite all of these things and the clear betrayal of the essence of the character Shaft by making this a comedy, this movie actually works. The comedy is on point and very cheeky. Tim Story has made a niche for himself in this comedy action, buddy film where the young buck challenges the old, archaic ways of the grizzled veteran and tries to encourage him to come into the present era of operating. Eventually, it’s the new buck that must adapt and assimilate some of the behavior of the veteran while the veteran stays the same. The same plot could be seen in the Ride Along series Story also directed.

Rated R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity, Shaft is the typical plain-Jane, vanilla, pop comedy-action movie that Tim Story usually makes. It’s not deep in meaning or political in its message, it reduces an iconic character to dim-witted, monotone joke and is only mildly entertaining. Shaft is not worthy of a paying a full price admission ticket but it can pass for an early morning, mid-week matinee fare.

Grade: C-