New Line Cinema/Davis Entertainment/Khalabo Ink Society/Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Tim Story
Produced by John Davis
Music by Christopher Lennertz
Cinematography by Larry Blanford
Edited by Conrad Buff IV
Screenplay by Kenya Barris/Alex Barnow
Based on “Shaft” by Ernest Tidyman
Let’s get what I think are the two most important things out of the way so you can decide if you want to read the rest of this review. We’re all busy people and I don’t want to want to waste your time as I consider it as valuable and as precious as mine. Okay, here’s goes:
1: The classic Isaac Hayes “Theme From Shaft” is not used in the movie which right there is unthinkable. Imagine going to a Star Wars movie, a James Bond movie or an Indiana Jones movie and none of their theme songs was used in the movie. And, yes, yes, I know that the James Bond theme wasn’t used in “Never Say Never Again” but that movie is an anomaly so it doesn’t count in this discussion. The “Theme From Shaft” is used, rejiggered by Christopher Lennertz but not the Isaac Hayes original. Now if it were me…if I couldn’t use the Isaac Hayes music for my Shaft movie then I ain’t makin’ a Shaft movie. Full Stop. But I don’t make movies and so we move on.
2: Despite what the trailers would have you believe; SHAFT isn’t a full-blown comedy from start to finish which is definitely the impression I got when I saw them. No, this incarnation of SHAFT is more akin to the “Lethal Weapon” movies, actually. SHAFT is a Buddy Action Movie where the humor comes mainly from the situations the characters find themselves in and the interaction between John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) who seemingly never left the 1980s and his son John Shaft, Jr (Jessie Usher) who is very much a Millennial. They have wildly different opinions about women (especially about women) violence, finances, technology and the current state of Black Manhood in America.
Still here? Okay. Then let’s get to the obligatory plot summary: JJ is a data analyst working for the FBI and making a life for himself in New York along with his two best friends he’s known since they were kids. Army Veteran/Recovering Addict Karin (Avan Jogia) and Physician/Childhood Crush Sasha Arias (Alexandra Shipp) Life for all three appears to be going great until Karin turns up dead from a O.D. JJ insists that his friend was clean, despite the evidence. He’s convinced Karin was murdered but lacks the street smarts and investigative skills to find out the truth. And so he has to turn to his estranged father for help, the legendary Harlem private eye John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) who himself is the son of the original black private dick who’s the sex machine with all the chicks, John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) And if after reading that last sentence you smell retcon be assured that there’s not a thing wrong with your nose.
Shaft agrees to help JJ find out who killed his friend but only if he doesn’t tell his mother, Maya (Regina Hall) who raised JJ by herself to keep him away from his father’s violent lifestyle.
And what Shaft doesn’t tell his son that he has his own agenda in this case as the murder of JJ’s friend has links to one of Shaft’s old enemies, Gordito Carrera (Isaach De Bankole). And so the two Shafts bumrush Harlem, each using their own unique skills and talents to uncover a drug conspiracy while lovingly arguing and bickering with each other because in these kinds of movies the heroes can only bond while dodging blizzards of bullets.
When I heard that Tim Story was directing this movie it didn’t exactly make me jump for joy. There’s only two of his movies I can honestly say I enjoyed (“Barbershop” and “Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer”) but now I can add SHAFT to the list. I probably enjoyed it because going in my expectations were so low and as a result, I found myself getting into the story and the characters despite my earlier misgivings. Yes, this is without a doubt the most lightweight Shaft movie made so far. Whereas in the 2000 John Singleton directed “Shaft” I don’t believe that Jackson so much as cracked a smile once, in this one Jackson frequently smiles, grins and even laughs. Maybe age has mellowed this Shaft out.
It hasn’t mellowed out the violence and profanity at all, tho. There’s a couple of really brutal and bloody shootouts and rarely have I seen a movie where every member of the cast gets to say ‘motherfucker’ at least a dozen times each with all kinds of different inflections and usages. SHAFT doesn’t skimp on the action despite the occasional left turns into the lighter moments which usually involve the elder Shafts schooling the youngblood in the family tradition of ass-whoopin’
Samuel L. Jackson and Regina Hall both look as if they had nothing but fun making this movie. I do so enjoy seeing a movie where the actors are plainly enjoying what they’re doing in screen and such is the case in this one. Jessie Usher holds his own with his co-stars with flair and I loved the nice visual touch that as he spends more time with his father, his wardrobe subtly changes, visually representing his growing street smarts. In a way, this movie works as an origin story for his character as he learns how to embrace the persona of John Shaft which is handed down to him.
A persona that originated with Richard Roundtree who looks absolutely spectacular in this movie. Yes, his participation is little more than an extended cameo but he makes the best of it. In fact, the way Roundtree moves and carries himself with such authentic badassery I think he could easily star in another Shaft movie himself. And don’t give me that look. If Harrison Ford can keep on playing Indiana Jones why can’t Richard Roundtree keep on playing John Shaft?
SHAFT is nowhere as bad as I thought it would be and I’m not saying it’s a great movie. It’s a downright damn shame to have magnificent actors such as Lauren Velez and Titus Welliver and waste them in throwaway roles that could have been played by extras. And there’s an inexplicable bit where JJ finds himself in a life-threatening situation and gets out of it without any explanation to us how he managed to do that. When you see the movie, you’ll know what I mean. And it really honked me off when Jackson’s Shaft is continually referred to a ‘deadbeat dad’ when it is clearly depicted that such is not the case.
But SHAFT is an entertaining two hours at the movie. Some are going to see this movie and be horrified by the racist, sexist attitudes of the Jackson Shaft and interpret much of what he says and does as toxic masculinity. Me, I choose to look at it as a statement on the Shaft movies themselves. You can’t make a Shaft movie “like they used to make” because the world simply doesn’t have that mindset anymore. Things were done, shown and said in the original “Shaft” that offend moviegoers now and those moviegoers insist that such characters be sanitized so that they no longer offend their gentle sensibilities. Well, sometimes when you’re afraid to offend you’re also afraid to create something interesting and unique as well. If the purpose of this SHAFT is to build a new John Shaft for those moviegoers, then it’s succeeded.
But that’s enough of my half-assed social commentary. You want to be entertained for two hours with laughs and some action? Then I recommend SHAFT highly.
And I usually post a trailer to go along with the movie I’m reviewing. But since this version of SHAFT so egregiously neglected to use the Isaac Hayes theme song I feel it’s my duty to step in and try in some small way to make up for that. Enjoy!