Entertainment » Movies

Shaft

by Lindsey Bahr .
Tuesday Sep 10, 2019
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows from left, Jessie Usher, Samuel Jackson and Richard Roundtree in a scene from "Shaft."
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows from left, Jessie Usher, Samuel Jackson and Richard Roundtree in a scene from "Shaft."  (Source:Kyle Kaplan/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Now available digitally!

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The latest "Shaft," which adds a new generation of bad mother------- to the mix, is not what you might expect. It's not gritty or raw or even attempting to be all that cool. Instead it maintains intoxicatingly upbeat sitcom-style energy, with gentrification jokes, generational jabs (mostly at the expense of millennials) and Samuel L. Jackson, reprising his nearly 20-year-old role as John Shaft II, seemingly having a blast every step of the way.

It's not that it's sanitized or without violence. There are guns, many of them, and of the automatic assault variety. But this is the kind of movie that will play The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" during a big shootout, and not in a Scorsese kind of way.

It's hard not to be on board with the liveliness and the generally sharp writing. The film starts off so well, too, and as most movies really should, in 1989 Harlem. Regina Hall (Maya) is dressing down Shaft for his reckless life choices and he's not really having it, but their conversation gets interrupted by an ambush that almost kills Maya and the baby we find out later is in the back seat. So Maya moves upstate to the suburbs with little John Shaft Jr. (or J.J.) to raise him away from danger (and his father).

Shaft is there in J.J.'s life through the occasional Christmas present which, over the years include a New York Giants Super Bowl XXV ring, Magnum condoms and pornography magazines. But despite his attempts to raise a mini-mother------ from afar, J.J. grows up to be a nice young fellow and M.I.T. grad who wears slim fitting jeans and shirts buttoned all the way to the top and works for the FBI (aka "the man"). He's played, charmingly, by Jessie T. Usher.

The mysterious death of his friend, and his inability to investigate on his own, leads him to his dad's office to ask for some help. He gets more than he bargained for in terms of late-game fatherly advice on how J.J. is failing to be a man, and, specifically, a black man worthy of the Shaft name. And so this odd couple sets off to solve a murder, and, you presume, learn some lessons from one another as well. All well and good right?

Not exactly.

Director Tim Story and writers Alex Barnow and Kenya Barris made the pretty curious and unforgivable choice to imbue this story not just with a generational divide, but with all the antiquated and offensive worldviews from the "good old days" that they could fit in to two hours.

Early on there's a throwaway joke about an FBI boss having a transgender kid (the things he has to deal with!). It goes by quickly enough that it MIGHT BE forgotten, but then come the gay panic jokes — a lot of them — and the misogynistic jokes (because what women really want is a man who tells them what they want and never apologizes). As if that all wasn't enough to sour what could have been a simply joyful experience, they also manage to get an extended fat-shaming joke in before the final showdown.

It's very possible that the filmmakers assume this is all in good fun and even be acceptable because when Shaft is going off on what women want, it's clear that his son disagrees. But I'm not sure two woke characters (including J.J.'s smart love interest played by Alexandra Shipp) are enough anymore, especially when the movie clearly views J.J. as the nerd who needs to lighten up and embrace the old school ways of his much cooler father.

How jokes this offensive can make it to the screen in 2019 is beyond comprehension and a bit of a shame, considering that this has so much else going for it including a delightful late-game appearance by the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, who looks fantastic, by the way.

There is potential commentary to be made about the generational gap that doesn't require dredging up the most deplorable intolerances. So what on earth were these bad mother------- thinking?

Shaft

John Shaft Jr. may be an FBI cyber security expert, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend's untimely death, he needs an education that only his dad can provide. Absent throughout his childhood, the legendary John Shaft agrees to help his son navigate the heroin-infested underbelly of Harlem, N.Y. Besides, the locked and loaded Shaft has his own score to settle -- both professional and personal.

Info

Runtime :: 111 mins
Release Date :: Jun 14, 2019
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States

Cast

John Shaft :: Samuel Jackson
JJ Shaft :: Jessie Usher
John Shaft, Sr. :: Richard Roundtree
Maya Babanikos :: Regina Hall
Sasha Arias :: Alexandra Shipp
Major Gary Cutworth :: Matt Lauria
Special Agent Vietti :: Titus Welliver
Freddy P :: Cliff ``Method Man' Smith
Pierro ``Gordito' Carrera :: Isaach De Bankolé
Karim Hassan :: Avan Jogia
Bennie Rodriguez :: Luna Velez
Sergeant Keith Williams :: Robbie Jones
Staff Sergeant Eddie Dominguez :: Aaron Dominguez
Manuel Orozco :: Ian Casselberry
Anam :: Almeera Jiwa
Ron :: Leland Jones
Harlem Kid :: Jalyn Hall
Once Beautiful Woman :: Sylvia Jefferies
Butch Lesbian Girl :: Whit Coleman
Baby :: Chivonne Michelle
Sugar :: Tashiana Washington
Jacked Dude :: Philip Fornah

Crew

Director :: Tim Story
Screenwriter :: Kenya Barris
Screenwriter :: Alex Barnow
Producer :: John Davis
Executive Producer :: Richard Brener
Executive Producer :: Josh Mack
Executive Producer :: Marc S. Fischer
Executive Producer :: Tim Story
Executive Producer :: Ira Napoliello
Executive Producer :: Kenya Barris
Cinematographer :: Larry Blanford
Film Editor :: Peter Elliot
Original Music :: Christopher Lennertz
Production Design :: Wynn Thomas
Art Director :: Jeremy Woolsey
Set Decoration :: Missy Parker
Costume Designer :: Olivia Miles
Casting :: Victoria Thomas


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