Shaft (2019)

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As I prepared for this movie, a movie that I had enjoyed the trailers for, I watched the original Shaft from 1971 with Richard Roundtree and the 2001 Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson.  Both movies were escapist fun and featured one bad mutha…shut your mouth!

So when I heard the really bad reviews the 2019 version of Shaft was receiving from critics, I was disappointed, but I remained cautiously optimistic.  I mean, I have disagreed with critics before, though, 35% on Rotten Tomatoes does not usually mean this is going to be a winner.

Still, I hoped for the best, and, in the end,…

I liked it.

Samuel L. Jackson returned as John Shaft, and we meet the woman, Maya (Regina King), who tamed, if only temporarily, the sex machine with all the chicks.  Unfortunately, a hit gone wrong led to Maya to take Shaft’s baby son away from him and keep the boy isolated from his father for his own safety.

J.J. aka John Shaft Jr. (Jesse T. Usher) had grown up never knowing his father and resenting how Shaft deserted him.  J.J. became an FBI data analyst and wound up on the outskirts of a case that led to the murder of his lifelong friend Karim (Avan Jogia).  Not sure where to turn, J.J. turned to his father in his search for his friend’s murderer.

Now, the story of this movie is dumb.  There is no way around it.  The plot is needlessly convoluted and feels too much like a bad 1980s movie.  There are two main reasons why this movie works despite the failure of the story.

One, is Samuel L. Jackson.  He is clearly having all kinds of fun playing the role of John Shaft once again.  He is funny, foul-mouthed and full of inappropriateness, which all adds up to be simply a hoot.  Jackson’s Shaft is politically incorrect and loving every minute of it.

The second reason is the relationship that the movie builds between Shaft and J.J.  The film focuses on the differences between the two generations of Shaft men (eventually, bringing in a third with Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft, who turned out to not be Uncle John as the 2001 movie indicated).  J.J. is a metro-sexual, computer savvy, gun-hater, opposites to his father in many ways.  However, the film also shows that J.J. and Shaft have some unexpected connections as well.  I loved the chemistry between Jackson and Usher and their relationship made the film for me.

Yes, the villains are one note and the violence is everywhere, but that is the same as the other versions of Shaft.   I thought Regina King was a bit overtly dramatic for her role, but she did show the type of fire that might have kept John Shaft interested for all these years.

Shaft (2019) is not a great movie, but I had a good time watching it.  Samuel L. Jackson is great as the title character and his relationship with J.J. carries the film past its weaknesses.  You may need to approach this film with the right mindset, but there are parts of the new Shaft worth admission.

3 stars

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