Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Movie Review: "Shaft" (2019)

Director: Tim Story
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

When a close friend of John Shaft Jr. (JJ) dies of an apparent heroin overdose, he suspects foul play and seeks out his estranged but renowned private investigator father to help with the investigation.

"Gentrification's a bitch, ain't it?" (Image Source)
There are now films from three different decades that are all called "Shaft." All of these movies take place in the same universe and are all part of the same franchise...sounds confusing, right? We're surprised they didn't tap into the exploitation grindhouse angle with the titles and go with "Son of Shaft," or more appropriately, "Son of Son of Shaft" instead. "Shaft" (2019) is directed by Tim Story, who is known for directing films like "Taxi," "Fantastic Four," and "Ride Along." The screenplay is written by "Girls Trip" and "Black-ish" scribe Kenya Barris, and "The Goldbergs" writer Alex Barnow. When a close friend of FBI analyst John Shaft Jr. (JJ) (Jessie T. Usher) turns up dead from an apparent heroin overdose, he believes that this OD was no accident and that his friend was murdered. Since his boss won't listen to him, JJ tries to investigate on his own and seeks out help from his estranged father John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson), who is more familiar with the street dealers that JJ is trying to question. Together, they investigate his friend's death, and they also get to know each other and bond as father and son.
Maya (Regina Hall) questions John Shaft Jr. (Jessie T. Usher) in a movie still for the latest Shaft film
"Regular hitch off the same fucked up block." (Image Source)
When we first saw the trailer for the new "Shaft" movie, we were sort of looking forward to it. It was advertised as a more modern, tongue-in-cheek take on the character, and it looked like it could be a lot of fun. In preparation for this third installment in the now decades-long series, we went back and watched the original "Shaft" (1971), which we enjoyed for what it was, and "Shaft" (2000), which left a lot to be desired and tempered our expectations quite a bit. We are disappointed to say that the new "Shaft" sequel is much more in line with the latter than the former.

Though Tim Story, Kenya Barris, and Alex Barnow make an honest attempt to inject some humor into the script, much of it falls flat. Instead of taking a candid look at the differences between today's times/customs/mores and how things were when the more senior Shafts were raised, they see fit to lay on cringe-inducing humor about how out of touch Samuel L. Jackson's Shaft is with the current PC identity culture in which we live today. Instead of swagger, Shaft can now be equated to an "old man who yells at the clouds" shouting loudly at anyone who will listen about how he just can't comprehend that some people want to be called certain labels. It's not like we look to the Shafts for guidance on the intricacies of gender identity, but it feels reductive, dull, and tired to mimic and mock. The entire movie revolves around John Shaft Sr. making cracks about the way John Shaft Jr. has chosen to live his life in his father's absence. He mocks the way he talks, pokes fun at the way he dresses, questions his sexuality numerous times, and takes shots at how his lifestyle lines up more with 'millennial hipster' than 'urban street,' and all of this somehow makes him 'less black.' This type of humor might play well with some audience members but just didn't bring the laughs for us. In fact, we're surprised they decided to take this route considering it has flopped in other films in the (very recent) past. As for the story itself, it's predictable as hell and is virtually devoid of tension, charisma, and excitement. Many of the situations feel contrived, and frankly, we felt bored watching this movie. Also, despite being heavily featured in the advertising, Richard Roundtree, who is by far the best part of the film for the ten or so minutes he is in it, bamboozled us by not showing up until the last portion of the third act. Talk about a major disappointment. Oh, and the course-correction Story pulls about how Roundtree's Shaft is really Samuel L. Jackson's Shaft's father and not his uncle? Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.
Jessie T. Usher, Samuel L. Jackson, and Richard Roundtree walk down the street in matching red jackets in the third Shaft movie
"He thinks he's the black James Bond." (Image Source)
Though the studios keep trying to reignite the "Shaft" franchise for a new generation, it's clear now that it is very much a product of its time. Instead of watching this incarnation of "Shaft," we suggest going back and revisiting the "Shaft" from 1971. We guarantee you'll have a much better time.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 3/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.4/10
RT Rating: 31%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

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