Director Tim Story restores Shaft to his seventies grandeur. The ass-kicking, ladies-loving, foul-mouthed private dick is back in unrepentant glory. Everything that was missing from the 2000 film is infused here in spades. Writers Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow gleefully throw political correctness out of the window. Shaft skewers modern sensitivities. It’s an old school blaxploitation adventure that will surely offend some, but have the majority of audiences happily along for the ride.
Shaft‘s primary character is John “JJ” Shaft Jr., played brilliantly by Jessie Usher. JJ was whisked away by his mother (Regina Hall) as an infant. She’d had enough of the bloody violence that followed Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) everywhere. Young JJ grows up as a bullied nerd in the suburbs. His only interaction with his father, eyebrow raising birthday and Christmas presents.
JJ joins the FBI as a data analyst in New York City. The plot begins when JJ’s best childhood friend (Avan Jogia) gets in trouble. JJ realizes he doesn’t have the street smarts or toughness to investigate. He’s forced to reconnect with his father for help. Shaft loves his son, but doesn’t understand anything millennial. Their investigation reveals a conspiracy led by a dangerous old adversary (Isaach De Bankolé). When the bullets start to fly, senior and junior know there’s always backup when needed. Grandpa (Richard Roundtree) is still the baddest mother****** of all.
Shaft was much funnier than expected. JJ’s introduction to his father’s lifestyle is absolutely hilarious. Their first scene together will have you rolling in the aisles laughing. Jessie Usher plays the perfect straight man to Samuel L. Jackson’s abrasive crudeness. Father and son are like oil and water, but have tremendous respect for each other. This is where the family dynamic becomes more than just comedic fodder. The characters have a bond that is believable and grows significantly throughout the film.
Shaft revels in its pulp elements. JJ’s politically correct thinking and actions are continually knocked down by his father. The language skirts misogyny with over the top sexual innuendo. When Shaft goes to punch a female attacker, JJ stops him, “You can’t hit a woman!” Then gets beaten to the ground for his chivalry. Shaft reminds his son that he’s an equal opportunity ass-kicker. Shaft will not be the poster film for the #MeToo movement, but everything is obviously said and done in jest.
The action scenes are scaled up. There are gun battles and fist fights galore, but no real danger to our protagonists. Shaft and son live up to their legendary ethos. They could run through a rainstorm and not get wet. The same goes for bullets and crossing the street. Shaft is too cool to look both ways. Nothing can hurt that invincible mojo.
Don’t see Shaft if you’re easily offended. The film is a take no prisoners action-comedy. Tim Story plays to the character’s memorable tropes. The introduction of Junior adds a welcome foil and partner to the “shut your mouth” adventures. I can definitely “dig it”. Shaft is a production of New Line Cinema and Davis Entertainment, with distribution by Warner Bros.
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