If there is one thing that the recent release of “Shaft” has taught cinema, it’s that an old franchise can still learn new tricks. After three films from the 70s starring Richard Roundtree and a sequel starring Samuel L. Jackson, “Shaft” juggles three leads in an entertaining manner alongside pulse pounding action and side busting humor.
The film focuses on John “JJ” Shaft III, played by Jessie Usher, an FBI analyst who is investigating a drug cartel in Harlem. With no street skills, he turns to his estranged private investigator father John Shaft Jr., played by Samuel L. Jackson, for help in dealing with Harlem’s seedy underbelly. But as the father/son duo dive further into the case, a variety of criminals try to kill them which results in the pair turning to the original John Shaft, played by Richard Roundtree, for large amounts of firepower resulting in a grand climax with three generations of Shaft.
All three main actors are marvelous on screen and they each provide a unique presence. JJ is the newcomer with no experience on the streets. However, he’s not a cowardly wimp and is not afraid to get his hands dirty. His father is the exact opposite by being a confident man who will break a man’s hand if he so much as looks at him funny. Both are good foils and have a strong arc as they work together and find a way to become a father and son.
The only one who doesn’t appear to have much development is the original John Shaft. However, he only is in the film for 30 minutes and has a great deal of funny moments so that’s not a major detractor. Even if he did take up more screen time, the film’s tight plot would start to wear out if there were too many story arcs.
Two impressive ladies, Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp, round out the cast as Maya, JJ’s mother and John Shaft Jr.’s ex-wife, and Sasha, JJ’s love interest. Both are people for the protagonists to fight for, but have a great deal of humor and fight in them so that they don’t fall into the damsel in distress stereotype. Hall and Jackson’s chemistry is a highlight of the film with the pair constantly in each other’s arms and at each other’s throats.
Comedy is something that the film perfectly nails thanks to all five main actor’s great sense of timing. Out of all the actors, Samuel L. Jackson delivers the most humor thanks to his constant use of profanity, quick wit and charm that made him likable in previous films such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained.”
While Blaxploitation films have been relatively dead since the 70s, “Shaft” has dedicated itself to recreating the atmosphere of the original. The film is very over the top by constantly having bright colors and countless shootouts. The dedication director Tim Story shows to “Shaft” resembles the passion Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee showed to the films “Jackie Brown” and “BlacKkKlansman.”
From beginning to end, “Shaft” is a wonderful homage to the Blaxploitation genre still confirms that that cat Shaft is one bad mother... Shut Your Mouth!