By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
The Shaft saga continues with a movie that attempts to be more politically correct and less misogynistic than any other previous entry in the series. However, this approach, paired with a more comedic tone, will probably grate with die hard fans of the original Blaxploitaion movies and the 2000 update. All in all, though, I actually had a lot of fun with this latest entry and feel that the filmmakers successfully found a certain progressive balance that honors what made the previous Shaft films great and critiques/lampoons the more dated aspects. Shaft (2019) might not be one’s grandfather’s or father’s exact version of the legendary Black hero, but times do change.
Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as John Shaft II. Though presented as a single, childless cop turned private detective in the last movie, this new installment ret-cons this notion and reveals that, at one time Shaft was married with a baby son. Fast forward to several years later (decades after the events of the last film), private dick Shaft never remarries and has remained uninvolved in his son’s life. In the present day, John Shaft III works for the FBI as an intelligent cybersecurity analyst with no real field experience. When a troubled childhood friend of his mysteriously dies from a drug overdose, the very green Shaft III must seek his estranged father’s help to investigate the matter.
Written by Kenya Barris, Alex Barrow, and directed by Tim Story, Shaft 2019, is pretty much a lot of fun when it comes to the comedy, but lacks the social relevance of any of its predecessors. The movie mostly focuses in the relationship and generational differences between father and son, but falls a bit short with its murder plot. Though the filmmakers try to make a statement on Muslim prejudice and xenophobia, this aspect of the movie gets overshadowed by the comedy between Papa Shaft and Shaft, Jr. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help, but enjoy this dynamic and the resulting humor which actually work very well. I can also appreciate the filmmakers’ decision to critique some of Shaft’s less redeeming qualities.
As proven in the last film and reiterated in this one, Samuel L. Jackson was born to play this type of role. Though, he plays it a little differently than the original Shaft (Richard Roundtree), Jackson’s cool presence and fiery attitude makes his Shaft a definitive version of his own. As Shaft III, Jessie T. Usher performs well as the nerdy, not-so-badass millennial who reluctantly seeks his father’s help.
The original, legendary Richard Roundtree makes an appearance in the film and obviously own his role on his terms. The film also stars Regina Hall as Shaft III’s mother and Shaft II’s ex-wife Maya. It made me happy to see her again in a mostly comedic role, though I have loved her recent forays into more dramatic movies.
So while, this latest Shaft installment might not have the same social significance as any of the other previous movies, it still is a highly enjoyable film. I honestly wouldn’t recommend rushing out to spend top dollar to see it in the theater, but it should make for a fun evening at home.