SHAFT (NETFLIX) (2019)
SYNOPSIS: JJ, aka John Shaft Jr. (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary locked-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather duster, there’s no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that’s professional and personal.
Instead of rebooting and remaking an old franchise property, Warner Bros came up with an ingenious way of reuniting three generations of “Shaft” for the famous detective’s latest outing. So for the price of one, you get three “Shafts”, not a bad deal for Netflix who paid for international rights.
Raised by his mother Maya (Regina Hall) since he was an infant, JJ aka John Shaft Jr (Jessie Usher) has to enlist the help of his long estranged father when his childhood friend, Karim is suspiciously found dead. JJ’s father is none other than the legendary, street-smart private detective John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role in the 2000 version directed by the late John Singleton). Together with Shaft II, JJ is ready to investigate the underbelly of Harlem and at the same time, unexpectedly rekindling his relationship with a father he has never knew.
So much has changed since the days of Blaxploitation cinema and likely director Tim Story (the man behind Fantastic Four, Barbershop and Ride Along) and his writers knew it. Thus instead of another gritty exploitative sequel, the modern-day audiences got themselves a father-and-son sort of buddy action comedy that is both lightweight and formulaic.
For a crime investigative flick, the writers sure know how to pepper up the story with a lot of promising themes. Let’s see, we have an Islamic cleric who might harbour some terrorism intention, there’s a shady Latina grocery shop owner, a drug rehab clinic that might be a front for a smuggling ring and finally, Shaft II’s long-time enemy, drug lord Gordito might have a hand in it as well.
Unfortunately, the movie spent too much time developing the relationship between Shaft II and Junior that there’s too little time left for crime. Other than a couple of serviceable shoot-outs with underdeveloped villains, we are mostly left entertained by Samuel L. Jackson’s pussy/dick jokes, f-bombs and his constant jabs at millennials. Richard Roundtree who portrayed the original Shaft character returns as Grandpa Shaft for the climax proving it’s never too crowded to have two cool cats onscreen.
It’s not compulsory to watch the original Shaft or the 2000 Shaft before you stream this version. As mentioned earlier, the new Shaft is an entertaining action comedy yet forgettable take on the classic character. Just a warning though, if you find stuff liked racism, sexism and misogyny kind of offensive then this flick should be avoided at all costs.
Review by Linus Tee