Shaft (2019)
Shaft (2019)

Genre: Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.

Release Date: June 14th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tim Story Actors: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Roundtree, Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp, Matt Lauria, Titus Welliver, Method Man, Isaach De Bankole, Avan Jogia, Luna Lauren Velez

 


 

G

etting caught up in a violent shootout with a drug lord’s thugs has become standard fare for tough-talking, streetwise policeman John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson). But for young mother Maya Babanikos (Regina Hall), it’s an unacceptable risk – so she leaves with John Shaft, Jr., their toddler son. Decades pass, seeing that baby, nicknamed “JJ” (Jessie T. Usher), transform into a responsible, mild-mannered FBI data analyst. When his best friend Karim Hassan (Avan Jogia) dies under mysterious circumstances, JJ begrudgingly turns to the one man he knows can help him navigate the criminal underworld to get answers: his estranged father. Now, the mismatched duo must rampage through rogues and red tape to uncover a conspiracy that will put them both back in the line of fire.

The opening production company logos possess a hint of the ‘70s blaxploitation flair, but the title graphics return to the polish of the 2000 iteration. The recognizable music certainly adds a touch of familiarity, as does a stroll across a busy street, displaying a comically impulsive disregard for traffic. That nod actually reappears throughout the film, and it’s a mirthful way to tie in the three generations of the Shaft family who grace the screen. And this time around, viewers are given a montage recap to jog memories; despite brandishing only that namesake as a title for the third film in a row, this latest update serves as a sequel just as much as a reimagining (or reboot).

“Shaft” wishes to reacquaint audiences with the title character’s signature routines, beginning with a farcical abuse of power. With bigger problems in a rapidly changing world, Shaft’s unlawful endeavors are ripe for comedy. And that’s the highlight of this new vision; where the original picture worked as an earnest crime drama, and the 2000 take was designed to be a heavy-hitting actioner, this 2019 version is an action-comedy – or, more precisely, a buddy-cop flick with ample helpings of father/son whimsy. The dialogue is stuffed with one-liners and jokes, which the protagonists use to deflect any sense of realism; no one ever seems as if in serious danger. Here, invincibility is fun.

But the story is essentially meaningless, existing solely to put two drastically different figures together for laughs. The murder mystery is entirely guessable, the villains are of the cardboard variety, and there are no surprises; everything happens with the utmost predictability. Yet the pairing of an initially inept, inexperienced, sensitive youngster with an ass-kicking, gun-toting, attitude-spewing, off-the-grid shamus is a winning formula. Samuel L. Jackson gets plenty of opportunities to chew up the scenery, as if a Terminator to JJ’s childish John Connor. “You dig?”

The tone has been completely overhauled, now brimming with sexual innuendo and straightforward mockery, embracing the natural contrasts of young versus old, modern versus antiquated, and uptight versus loose. The resulting advice on relationships (misguided as it might be) dwells on old-fashioned masculinity (“Men don’t apologize!”), but it’s easy enough to laugh at the brazenness and the raunchiness (“Go tear that ass up, son”). The chemistry is effective where the narrative fails. Plus, brutes get thrown through windows, familial issues spark continuous comic relief, and the inimitable Richard Roundtree gets a lot more screentime than in his previous, one-scene cameo.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10