Jackson back in action as ‘Shaft’
The 2000 reboot/remake of Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson and directed by John Singleton, delivered the action goods and told a story that had substance. The belated (19 years) follow-up, with Jackson back as John Shaft under the direction of executive producer Tim Story, opts for a hokey, jokey approach that does the franchise no favors. This Shaft is strictly shallow business.
Here, the eponymous Harlem private eye is joined by his estranged son, J.J. (Jessie T. Usher), the product of a long-ago romance with Maya (Regina Hall), who wanted to keep the boy out of harm’s way. Now an FBI analyst, J.J.’s curiosity is piqued by the death of best friend Karim (Avan Jogia), a combat veteran and former junkie who died of an overdose – one that could not have been self-inflicted given the amount of heroin in his system.
This is the reason that J.J. reunites – uneasily, at first – with his father, whose street smarts and tough talk come in plenty handy, and naturally it’s not long before they warm to each other. Yet, Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow’s script spends so much time poking fun at Shaft’s political incorrectness and sexism that it becomes repetitious.
It’s one thing to toy with conventions, but concentrating so heavily on the comedy interrupts and even undermines the storyline, which is potentially provocative. As for the villains, they barely register. Isaach De Bankole, as a resident drug lord and long-time Shaft nemesis, has only a handful of lines before meeting his inevitable, albeit spectacular, fate.
The “original” John Shaft, Richard Roundtree, is also back, having starred in the original Shaft movies (Shaft, Shaft’s Big Score, Shaft in Africa) and the 2000 film. At that time, he complained that he wanted to get in on the action. That has been rectified here, except that Roundtree has nothing to do except action. His arrival is so late in coming and seems almost arbitrary – to say nothing of contrived – that his presence feels like a gimmick, which it is.
Make no mistake, it’s nice having him around, and like Jackson, he’s always been a charismatic screen presence even if, unlike Jackson, he didn’t have as many opportunities to display it. By contrast, this marks Jackson’s fourth film to be released in 2019 – with three more due before year’s end.
Thanks to the likable cast, Shaft isn’t a chore to sit through, but the generic father/son, cop/buddy bonding isn’t very original or memorable. It’s easy to watch but just as easy to forget.