Shaft (2019) is the sequel to Shaft (2000), which was the sequel to Shaft (1971). To clarify, that is not a typo. These are not remakes. They are sequels. All in the same franchise. All with the same name. Do with that information what you will.
Shaft begins with John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) on a date with his girlfriend, Maya (Regina Hall). After the evening turns violent, due to some unexpected visitors, Maya leaves Shaft in order to protect their son, JJ (eventually played by Jesse T. Usher). Maya raises JJ on her own, with Shaft’s only presence being in the form of Christmas and birthday gifts.
JJ grows up, goes to MIT, and begins working for the FBI as a cyber security data analyst but wants to become a field agent. After one of his childhood friends is found dead under suspicious circumstances, JJ takes it upon himself to uncover the real reason behind his death. In doing so, he seeks out help from his estranged father and the two become an unlikely pair. After finding out that JJ is investigating their friend’s death, Sasha (Alexandra Shipp), JJ’s longtime crush, wants to help.
Like most of the movies that have come out so far this summer, I left Shaft saying, “meh.” The film starts with promise. Usher is charismatic, despite playing a character who we are supposed to view as nerdy. Jackson is clearly having a lot of fun. He has a lot of funny one liners and, because of its R-rating, he gets to use his favorite four letter word as much as he wants. Unfortunately, the longer the film goes, the more steam it loses.
“Like most of the movies that have come out so far this summer, I left Shaft saying, ‘meh.'”
The movie’s biggest issue is its repetition – both in jokes and in cliches. Its biggest source of conflict comes from Shaft and JJ’s different methods. Their generational differences are at the root of some laughs at first, then some eye rolls, and finally, some groans. What starts as an obvious but fun way to showcase how different the father/son pair is, turns into a one note joke. It feels more like one generation trashing on another, rather than any actual commentary.
It gets more problematic when their friction results from Jackson’s less than politically correct comments. The film uses Usher as the voice of reason during these moments. However, when the ratio of tasteless humor to comment chastising said humor is about 10:1, it can’t be excused.
When Shaft focuses on being a buddy cop movie, it succeeds. Jackson and Usher have good chemistry and their differences in investigating, speaking to people, and existing in the world are funny, when the focus is on their personalities. Shaft is carefree in his methods, while JJ always does things by the book. This dynamic is simple but it allows the comedy to come from who they are as people, rather than low hanging fruit, such as the generation that they are both from.
“When Shaft focuses on being a buddy cop movie, it succeeds.”
As for the story itself, it’s fine. Nothing we haven’t seen before across 337 episodes of CSI. The action is okay but doesn’t spark any real excitement. The supporting characters and, in particular, Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp, are not given anything to do. Regina Hall, especially, is an incredibly talented comedian but is brushed off to the side for most of the movie, her character being relegated to nothing more than JJ’s mom.
The return of John Shaft, Sr (Richard Roundtree), which could have been a big surprise, was spoiled by the film’s poster, leaving no twists, turns, or memorable moments for the audience to rave about after leaving the sticky floors of the theater.
All in all, Shaft is a misfire. The movie has some genuinely funny moments. It has talented actors. It has a formula that, even when cliche-ridden, can be successful. Unfortunately, those elements aren’t enough for it to rise above being anything more than two hours that you will likely forget before even making it back to your car.
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