Shut your mouth
OK, here's an interesting bit of sequel-naming. “Shaft” (2019) is the sequel to “Shaft” (2000), which is the sequel to “Shaft” (1971).
The staying power of the iconic police detective first played by Richard Roundtree is one of the lasting legacies of the blaxploitation movies of the 1970s.
And this latest iteration is generation-spanning, relishing its throwback quality (even if some of the material doesn't age as well).
With a flashback opening set in 1989 Harlem, we learn that John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson, because obviously) was the father of a child.
After a scary incident on the street, the child's mother, Maya (Regina Hall), decides she must raise him away from the dangers that always seem to find Shaft.
A (wonderful) time-tripping montage takes us to the modern day where that son, JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher), is now working for the FBI as a data analyst.
But when tragedy hits one of JJ's childhood friends, he must enlist the help of his estranged dad.
Director Tim Story, working from a punchy script by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow, delivers a “Shaft” that blends the old school and the new.
With much of its tension and humor deriving from this, the movie manages to make a little commentary on the shifting generations (some of which is a bit problematic), while mostly just delivering a good, old-fashioned popcorn action flick.
It's a role for which Jackson was born, and he's even better here than in the late John Singleton's first “Shaft” reboot. Jackson's deadpan is perfect as he's casually (and violently) dispensing with baddies.
But he's also got more opportunity to be funny, as this script and movie are full of great comedic moments. Story does a nice job of balancing the action and humor to keep the laughs steady without turning this into a comedy.
Usher pairs nicely with the elder Shaft as a prototypical millennial, a fact that raises a fair amount of banter from Jackson's Shaft, since JJ doesn't share his tendency for violence.
The “Scooby-Doo” plot actually adds to the fun if you don't think about it too much. And this “Shaft” isn't here to be thought about. It's a cool time and great splash of summer action.