“SHAFT” is strutting into theaters this weekend with Samuel L. Jackson back in the lead. Richard Roundtree who first played the character back in 1971 is also reprising the role of John Shaft, with Jessie T. Usher, Regina Hall, and Alexandra Shipp filling out the cast. The late John Singleton directed the last “Shaft” back in 2000 and this time Tim Story is in the directors’ chair. We get three generations of the Shaft men in this one as young Shaft Jr., a cyber analyst with the FBI reluctantly enlists the help of his estranged father to find out what really lead to his friend’s sudden death.
I enjoyed the last “Shaft” with Jackson in the lead and while it was a little too comedically driven for what I would have liked. It was still an entertaining movie with solid action, loads of the bravado and masculinity that was known for the character, and it had a collection of solid supporting characters. Like I said, it was overly focused on the laughs but regardless a good amount of the humor did work. So, I expected the same tone to pretty much carry over into this sequel, and for the most part it did. This one was still comedically driven without a doubt but a lot of it worked for me once again to create engaging laughs.
There was a charming self-awareness to the sense-of-humor captured in the writing from Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow. I do think you need to take the tone of the humor with a grain of salt. The theme is routinely misogynistic, like say, 90% of it. But that was intention. This character was first onscreen in 1971 it was a different time and even then, the tone was intentional. Shaft is a player, even in this film Samuel L. Jackson says, “motherfucker if James Bond was real, he’d want to be me.” That should tell you the direction of the humor being loaded with male arrogance. Blatantly archaic bravado that was highlighted with kickback throughout the movie from the younger generation as not being the norm anymore.
I thought the attempts at humor overall were able to highlight the passing of the character from an unfiltered older generation, to the more refined and tactful persona of the modern era. The contrast of personalities, and their simple varying approaches to conducting business created routine laughs for me and it was able to keep the energy up through a story-line that we have seen before. There wasn’t a ton of misdirection here, and the beats of the story are easy to forecast long in advance, but it was a complete narrative. The character-arcs were routine but elevated by the energy of the cast and the progression of solving the case had enough layers to create interest in how it would unfold.
Jessie T. Usher was a nice paring with Jackson and their timing was able to create some amusement. Usher wasn’t completely able to hit the beat each time. Yet I do think he was more than capable in the role and he was able to capture the needed chemistry with Jackson to sell me their broken relationship. Jackson also worked in this role once again for me and since he is pretty much playing himself, he was able to carry that same attitude from 2000 into this one without skipping a beat. Plus, he had to deliver some uncivilized dialogue at times, and he does so without hesitation and for as wrong as it was, I enjoyed seeing him being pulled into the 21st century and bonding with his son because there was a tinge of sincerity to it.
Roundtree was excellent as always with his smooth demeanor. Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp admittedly were not overly developed but they certainly do elevate the material with their screen presence. Both also showed a solid comedic range, as did Usher which blended well with Jackson’s relenting banter. Add all of this with a collection of enjoyable shootouts and it keeps the pace moving in a film that may be on the long side to some, but with constant progression others may enjoy the subtle homage to 70’s crime-dramas.
There was an overly procedural feel to the movie, but it didn’t hinder it for me and I had a fun, engaging time watching. The script was very self-aware, it knew what it wanted to accomplish, and the direction was stylish enough to create a fun atmosphere. All of which complement what would’ve been a perfect soundtrack had it not suffered from a weak theme song that was nothing compared to the original from Isaac Hayes. Overall, I think if you have enjoyed the “Shaft” films of the past that you will enjoy this one as it fills in some gaps in the historical timeline, delivers plenty of violence, edginess, style, hyper-sexuality, laughs, and a surprising amount of charm.