Movie Review: New ‘Shaft’ is more comedy-action than blaxploitation, but that’s not a bad thing

 By Rachel Laurie

June 16, 2019

What was a film that once revolutionized movies under the genre of blaxploitation is now a comedy-action movie. The shift in tone is most likely due to the writers, Kenya Barris (Black-ish and Girls Trip) and Alex Barnow (Family Guy), and director Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Think Like a Man, Ride Along). The fifth installment of Shaft, released on June 14, features quippy one-liners in between the shootouts that attempt to propel the film forward. Feminism and Islamophobia are brought up throughout as an attempt to keep up with current issues. While an effort to be politically relevant was made, it was obvious.  

The original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree), John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson) and newly introduced John “JJ” Shaft III (Jesse Usher) join forces to fight crime in typical Shaft fashion. The movie focuses on JJ and his life after being raised single handedly by his mom, Maya (Regina Hall). After showing the violence that breaks up Maya and Shaft II, a montage takes us through the years as JJ ages. JJ’s only contact with his father are gifts which include a Superbowl ring, condoms for his tenth birthday and pornographic magazines.

Jessie Usher as John “JJ” Shaft III, Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft Jr and Richard Roundtree as John Shaft. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

In present day, JJ is 30 and living in Brooklyn, a slightly uptight FBI Data Analyst and typical millennial. His exposed brick apartment, Old Navy clothes and texting habits are all eventually made fun of by his father, Shaft II. To further perpetuate JJ’s millennial stereotype, there are Lord of the Rings and music festival posters, lacrosse sticks and a bright blue “vintage” fridge in his apartment. JJ acts as the softer, politically correct counterpart to Shaft II’s “old-school” way of thinking. A notable difference is JJ’s dislike of guns and violence. A dislike he slowly abandons by the end of the movie.

The plot is a cookie-cutter example of a cop-gone-rogue action film. JJ is a straight-edge FBI employee who, according to Shaft II, “works for the man.” The action and relationship between JJ and Shaft II evolve as JJ learns from his father. This gives us the dynamic between a rookie cop and an expert who’s been at it for way too long. Just add in a predictable plot line with drugs, shoot-outs and two cases that lead to the same bad guy.

Regina Hall as Maya Babanikos. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The plotline jumpstarts after a night of drinks between JJ, his childhood crush, Sasha (Alexandra Shipp), and childhood friend, Karim (Avan Jogia). What begins as a harmless night of fun changes when Karim, a veteran and recovering addict, suspiciously leaves. The next morning, Karim is found dead from an overdose. This sends JJ into action as he believes it was not self-inflicted, which eventually leads him to talk to his father for the first time in 30 years. After slowly being pushed by his more violent and fast-talking father, JJ begins to fall into the way of life of the Shafts. JJ transforms as a naive character who throws two loaded guns out the window to single-handedly winning a shootout with notorious criminals.

Shaft I is not introduced until late in the movie when Shaft II and JJ need more gun power. The three generations are seen united for the first time as the climax ensues. The dynamic between the three hold a more comedic presence than a seriously badass one like most would expect. This includes a conversation between the three trying to sneak into a building while saying, “Well, this wouldn’t work in the movies.”

Richard Roundtree as John Shaft. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

For those worried if the trailer showed the funniest parts of the movie, fret not, for there are many laughable moments. Unlike previous Shaft films, the 2019 Shaft replaces much of the grittiness and darkness with a modern and entertaining plotline.

Those expecting the 1971 or 2000 Shaft will be disappointed. Shaft (2019) is a typical Hollywood buddy-cop movie that has just enough references from the originals to keep most audiences amused. Despite this difference, we can all agree seeing the three generations of Shafts together is pretty fun.

Star Rating: 3 out of 5 

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