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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: Shaft (2019)

Writers Of ABC’s “Blackish” & “The Goldbergs”, Team Up With “Taxi” Director Tim Story. As Samuel L Jackson Reprises His Role From 19 Years Ago & Leads Three Generations Of Shafts To Make It His Duty To Please Your Movie Going Booty.

After the critical and box-office success of 1971’s blaxploitation film “Shaft”, star Richard Roundtree rolled out with two sequels “Shaft’s Big Score!” in 1972 and “Shaft in Africa” in 1973. He even took the Shaft name to the small screen in a toned down tv series that ran only seven episodes, although trying his best to keep the reputation of John Shaft as one bad mother….

It wasn’t until 2000, when Samuel L. Jackson played John Shaft, the nephew of Roundtree’s Shaft in the recently passed away John Singleton’s entertaining actioner. Now 19 years later Sam Jackson returns to another installment once again titled “Shaft”, and it’s brought to us by director Tim Story (“Taxi” and “Ride Along 1 & 2”) with screenplay duties coming from two of tv’s leading writers Kenya Barris (creator & writer of “Black-ish” and “Girls Trip”) and Alex Barnow (writer of “The Goldbergs”). 

Barris and Barnow’s “Shaft” is an inspired updating, that puts Shaft in the middle of the “millennial” culture. Coming as a sequel and a semi soft reboot, we are introduced to Jessie Usher’s JJ. Having grown up and raised by his single mom (a scene stealing Regina Hall “Girls Trip” & “The Hate U Give”), he’s far different from his no holds barred father (Sam Jackson). JJ is a hip millennial with a nice loft that looks like a display from Ikea, wears plaid shirts and skinny jeans from The Gap and has a taste for coconut water so he can stock up on electrolytes. 

“Shaft” 2019 brings the franchise into the 21st century by spanning three generations of the Shaft family and leans heavily into the self-aware notion that the world we now live in is much different from the one where the franchise began in 1971. Director Tim Story injects much more heart and humor into his version then there has before. As a result, “Shaft” 2019, is a much different film from the earlier ones. They have found a brilliant way of combining the “old-school” legacy of Shaft with the new present day generation. 

Sam Jackson’s Shaft has a no-nonsense attitude, carries a shotgun in broad daylight and has a street-style of fighting crime. While being coupled with JJ’s millennial cyber smarts and sensitive consideration for the humanity in others makes for an interesting, yet dynamic storyline that will create nostalgia for the original “Shaft” films, while instilling a newfound respect and following for the “Shaft” franchise within the newer and millennial audiences. You can just imagine the cultural clashes that John Shaft Sr and Jr will get into. 

From those different viewpoints comes serious laughs that makes “Shaft” as much fun as it is. Given the climate, I’m not sure there was any way to do this but as a comedy, but the team behind “Shaft” 2019, make it work pretty damn well by giving us a smart updating of the series that’s a ton of fun to watch. 

Jackson is much different here than his toned down Shaft from John Singleton’s 2000 film. He looks great almost looking a decade younger than his seventy years and seems to be having a blast once again playing the role he was born to play. This is Jackson in full Sam Jackson profanity-tirade in a supercool, kick-ass mode. As always no one steals scenes from Samuel L. Jackson when he’s in his mode. 

Although Regina Hall gives him a run for his money and steals every scene as she always does in every film she is in. She does a lot with a limited screen time. Original “Shaft” star Richard Roundtree provides a nice connection to the original “Shaft”. Speaking of looking good, Roundtree looks great at the age of 76. He gets in on the action in a much bigger way than in the last film. He’s treated with respect here, and Roundtree really hasn’t lost a beat.

Jessie T. Usher holds his own against Jackson as Shaft’s son JJ. Usher is extremely likable and handles the action scenes well. He has a real easy-going charm that bodes well for his future as a leading man, and this is a top-notch showcase for him.

Tim Story keeps the film rolling along, and if it’s a little short on action early on, don’t worry the last act of the movie makes up for it with some stylish shootouts. It shows that, given the right material Tim Story can make an entertaining movie. His version of “Shaft” feels much like a mixture of his action comedy “Taxi” with Jimmy Fallon and with two writers from TV, “Shaft” does fall prey to feeling like a TV or Netflix series. 

It’s hard to compare this “Shaft” with its immediate 2000 predecessor because both films have different goals set in mind. Singleton’s film arguably understood the character of John Shaft better but Tim Story recognizes how to make changes that  will grant accessibility to both the fans of the original and today’s millennial audience.

If the movie has any real problems, the most prominent being the lack of a strong villain. We do get Isaach De Bankolé as Shaft Sr’s arch-nemesis, but he’s introduced too late into the film to make for a really credible threat for the Shaft family. Great villains were one thing the 2000 film nailed, memorably played by Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale. The cookie-cutter crime thriller plot is thin and if anything predictable. It’s all played out to a great soundtrack with a mixture of songs from the 70’s, like “Love Over And Over Again” by Switch, “Best Of My Love” by The Emotions and a fun gun fight sequence set to The Ronettes “Always Be My Baby”. 

This is a good-looking film, featuring a likable cast with jokes that are actually pretty funny. Is “Shaft” 2019 a great film? “Shut yo’ mouth!”. It’s passable, fun and entertaining. I still do prefer the 2000 “Shaft”, but as I stated before they are very different in tone. This is pure popcorn summer fun and to expect more than that your placing far too much confidence in the genre. “Shaft” is an entertaining father/son story that is releasing at just the right time for Father’s Day. Samuel L. Jackson fans, lovers of the originals or the series as a whole, even those who appreciate a more humorous take on the character will have a lot of fun. This weekend “Shaft” is definitely the choice film to see and skip “Men In Black International”, as “Shaft” keeps a franchise fresh while “MIB International” runs their franchise into the ground. 

GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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