Shaft is precisely the reason why audiences should never judge a release by its past. Although very rare, sometimes it takes a studio a few times to strike the perfect balance and that’s difficult when your protagonist is one bad mother (shut your mouth .. my apologies in advance as this review may be filled with few callbacks to the movie’s rich history). Tim Story’s reboot of Shaft is a ton of fun and reminds audiences of those 70’s cult classics which made Richard Roundtree a star. Those original movies were never meant to be serious pieces of work. They were loose, fun, full of action, and the hero always got the girl. The first film was too dark and tried to be something more. Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow have perfectly crafted a narrative which captures the spirit of the film’s origins and putting just enough of a modern spin without losing authenticity. Don’t walk in expecting high art but be prepared to laugh your ass off.
Part of what makes Story’s Shaft work is how it didn’t waste time trying to catch the audience up who this character was. In fact, for the very few who aren’t aware of who he is, the film is extremely clever in how they catch up audience members. The film focuses on the relationship between J.J. (Jessie T. Usher) and John Shaft II (Samuel L.Jackson). Since Shaft and his mother (played by the beautiful Regina Hall) separated when he was young, J.J. was raised in a nicer neighborhood outside of Harlem. Shaft is into long coats and strippers while his son is into computers and nice jeans. It’s hard to believe these two are even related.
So what’s this film about? When J.J.’s friend unexpectedly dies of an overdose, he decides to recruit the one man who knows how to get answers in Harlem (where his body was found). So what sort of trouble could a recovering addict and former army vet get into?
One of the best decisions the film made was once again bringing Richard Roundtree back into the series. To put it bluntly, it wouldn’t be Shaft without him (and no this time he’s not pretending to be his uncle). The chemistry between Jackson, Roundtree, Usher, and Hall is off the charts. The pacing on the film doesn’t lag, and most importantly, you’ll be entertained (which you can’t say about Men In Black: International).
Overall, New Line’s reboot of Shaft might be one of the bigger surprises of the summer. Some might say the film is benefiting from diminished expectations. How about we call it like it is. The movie is damn entertaining and let’s not overthink it.