Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie Usher, Richard Roundtree, Alexandra Shipp
Director: Tim Story
Of the summer remakes, reboots, and sequels, Shaft was one of the ones I was most excited for this year. The trailer seemed to capture the campiness necessary for a successful sequel while also paying respect to the movies that paved the path for it. So, what did we end up with? The latest installment in the Shaft franchise provides laughs from its main characters, but the messy plot derails what is otherwise a pretty fun movie. With the three Shaft men providing the level of entertainment this film requires, a sensible plot could’ve done these actors wonders, but instead we get a jumbled mess that somehow becomes difficult to follow.
The story follows John “JJ” Shaft Jr. (Usher), an FBI agent and son of wreckless private investigator John Shaft (Jackson). Following the suspicious death of one of JJ’s close friends, he tracks down his estranged father to get some closure to this situation and find out what really happened to his friend. What they uncover takes them to a part of New York they’ve never seen before and places them in danger the likes of which few people can get themselves out of. The thing that makes this film better than others in the genre is the chemistry of the three main actors. Specifically, the interactions between Jackson and Usher show the importance of the values of each generation and how they can come together to work towards a common goal. Jackson’s Shaft is a crude, callous womanizer that only cares about his own interests while Usher’s JJ is the mild-mannered, intellectual millennial that people from Shaft’s generation would make fun of, but the movie shows us that each generation has qualities that are still useful today. Jackson’s Shaft teaches JJ that he needs to stand up for himself and be assertive while JJ shows his father that doing this too much pushes people away and prevents him from being a real man. When this message is shown through a more comedic lens, it makes the message feel more transparent because the audience can laugh along with the jokes and awkward situations. Now, some people may label this movie as distasteful and a showcase of toxic masculinity, but that’s based more on the delivery of the message rather than the message itself. If you break down Jackson’s advice, it is still very relevant in today’s society. If the message isn’t received by audiences, then the film failed in that area, but in this case part of the blame must shift towards audiences who refuse to hear anything that makes them uncomfortable regardless if it is true or not. Outside of those two characters, I was happy to see that Roundtree was included in this movie reprising his role as the original John Shaft. As one of the most influential action stars of his era, I wasn’t sure if he would be coming back for this role, but he handled his limited time on screen very well and I applaud the movie for choosing to pay homage to the films that came before it. While the characters make this movie watchable, the plot does nothing to help these actors. Things are just randomly introduced to us and we are told that they are relevant to the plot, but this movie has a lot to unpack in its 111 minute runtime. There are multiple angles that the film tries to cover in this runtime and ultimately it ends up feeling rushed and bloated instead of smooth and free flowing. Combine this with sloppy action sequences, even for a movie with a smaller budget than other films in its genre, and you have a movie with an interesting premise that doesn’t quite deliver.
Overall, changing the tone of Shaft from a neo-noir or thriller to a satirical crime movie may not have been the wisest of choices, but it has moments where we can see where it would work. Usher helps bring a new twist on a character than has been well-developed by Jackson and Roundtree and shows that Shaft can work for the millennial generation. If the story had any semblance of finesse or reasonability, then I think Shaft could have been one of the big surprises of the summer. Instead, the weak story undermines three strong performances and possibly ends the Shaft franchise on a dud instead of a hit.
Overall Score: 4/10