Geek Review: Shaft

The original Shaft movie is something of a landmark.  Establishing a new kind of urban, African American hero, Richard Roundtree’s title character set the standard for many knock-offs that came after it.

There have been other Shaft movies.  But now, there’s a new one.  And it has all the actors to ever play a John Shaft.  How was it?

After an opening prologue showing why the second Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) split off from his wife Maya (Regina Hall) and infant son, the movie cuts to the present day.  The son, John “JJ” Shaft Jr. (Jessie Usher), grew up to become a gun-averse data analyst for the FBI with a crush on a childhood platonic friend, about as far removed from his tough guy, womanizing father as he can be.  When a childhood friend of JJ’s dies under suspicious circumstances in Harlem, JJ’s own investigation doesn’t get very far.  Reluctantly, he goes to his private investigator father.  And once involved, the elder Shaft insists on solving the case his way.  And yes, eventually they bring in Roundtree’s original Shaft, here as Jackson’s father (or uncle or something).  Try not to think about how Roundtree is only about six years older than Jackson.

Directed by Tim Story and co-written by TV veteran Kenya Barris, the movie is more of a comedy than any past incarnation of Shaft.  It also feels more like a particularly well-done sitcom.  Jackson’s Shaft’s various complaints about the millennial generation are rather weak stuff.  JJ initially comes across as useless, or at least supremely out of place in his father’s world.   But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear JJ actually has a number of skills of his own, and the two predictably begin to work together.   There’s not much here I can’t say I haven’t seen before, but what I did see sort of worked.

Ultimately, while I wouldn’t say this is a movie anyone needs to rush out and see right away, it wasn’t that bad.  Jackson, Usher, and Roundtree are all fairly charming, Hall holds her own, and Alexandra Shipp as JJ’s childhood friend and love interest at least has more to do here than in Dark Phoenix.  

Perhaps surprisingly given what I wrote about the TV feel of the movie, I kind of liked this.  It didn’t really have a lot of surprises.  The direction is average.  But the actors are charming, and even came up with some decent surprises for the JJ character.  This Shaft could have pushed the envelope a little more, perhaps played with the Shaft concept a bit better, but what it did do didn’t bother me.  I was entertained and not much more than that.  Maybe check this out if you find it at a discount theater or on cable.  7.5 out of 10 Isaac Hays riffs.

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