The latest installment in the Shaft franchise came and went in the blink of an eye during the often busy summer months, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a bad movie. Hell, don’t let the massive wave of negative critical reviews trick you into thinking it’s a bad movie either. No, Shaft is one of those movies you have no real expectations for when you begin and are almost surprised by how much fun you have while watching. As soon as it was over I reached out to a couple of friends to let them know they had to see it. Now, I’m not saying it’s one of the best movies of the year with that kind of endorsement; but it’s the type of flick where word of mouth is what will help give it the new life it deserves on the home theater front that it wasn’t able to find theatrically.
This iteration of Shaft once again tries to showcase the character to a new generation. In 2000, Samuel L. Jackson took on the iconic role, though unlike James Bond, Jackson was playing the son of the original Shaft and not just rebooting the same character in a modern era. Though with that said, Jackson’s Shaft shared basically all the same characteristics as his father with the renowned Sam Jackson flair mixed in. This time around, we’re introduced to JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher) or John Jr., aka John Shaft’s son. This time, however, the apple fell a bit farther from the tree.
Instead of being an intense, take no prisoners, warrior of the streets like his dear ol’ dad, John Jr is a rookie data analyst for the FBI who hates guns and has no relationship with his father whatsoever – well, aside from the ill-received Christmas and birthday gifts he’s sent, such as a box of condoms or porn magazines. It isn’t until his friend dies in a suspicious manner that John Jr. realizes the only one he can turn to in order to find out what truly happened is his pops.
What works so well with Shaft this time around is that it never takes itself too seriously. It fully embraces the buddy comedy side of storytelling instead of simply being an action movie centered around father/son bonding with some jokes sprinkled in for good measure. The chemistry between Jackson and Usher is as good as one could hope for, and their jabs at one another flow with perfection. This is vital to the movie, as if these two aren’t fun to watch on screen together then the movie is dead on arrival.
Now Sam Jackson has been born to play quite a few roles; however, he’s just so damn good as Shaft that it’s great to see him get another shot at his version of it here. This story is stronger than the 2000 version, and the character feels a lot more developed. Jackson also looks incredibly comfortable in the role here, like he’s simply slipped back into a pair of suede slippers. It’s clear he’s having a blast, and that only amplifies the confidence that naturally flows through the character of Shaft.
There are definitely some cliché notes throughout, such as the fact that John Jr. is the polar opposite of his street smart dad, but it works. It’s cliché but it’s the kind of cliché that you can get away with because of how fun the dialogue and interactions between characters are. Scriptwriters Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow really nail the fun atmospheric tone they set out to achieve with this story greatly in part to their focus on making the story about the characters instead of putting the crime that has to be solved front and center. They also pull no punches with the jokes here, so if you’re easily offended you may want to look elsewhere for your entertainment needs – though do know you’ll be missing out!
Tim Story also hits a bullseye with his handling of the film from the director’s chair. His pays homage to earlier versions of Shaft here and there, but also isn’t afraid to make things his own, let loose and have as much fun behind the camera as the characters are having in front of it. At just under two hours the film does feel just a tad long, but for the most part it’s paced quite well and the relationships forming on the screen are so interesting and entertaining that it isn’t overly detracting from the experience as a whole.
Richard Roundtree also returns to the role of John Shaft Sr. While he doesn’t show up until the latter half of the film, he also doesn’t just feel tacked on for the hell of it, and he also doesn’t take away from the bond we’ve come to have with Shaft and Shaft Jr. at this point. No, Roundtree makes a great addition and fits in perfectly with Jackson and Usher, throwing out his own witty remarks with the same amount of zing. Regina Hall plays John Jr.’s mom, Maya, and she’s a great addition to the story as well. As is John Jr.’s love interest, Sasha, played by Alexandra Shipp. In fact, everyone was cast spectacularly for the movie, coming together so naturally that these people – even though they constantly find themselves in the most over-the-top comedic action scenarios – feel real, as do their feelings and desires.
So if you decided the last thing you needed in your life was another Shaft movie, please reconsider. If your summer was busy and you said to yourself that you’d catch it on Blu-ray, then do so. Shaft is that hidden gem of a bigger Hollywood title that just slipped under the radar but deserves to be appreciated for the incredibly entertaining, laugh-out-loud, action-packed joyride it takes its viewers on.
The movie looks and sounds great. The visuals are sharp, the blacks are rich, the colours bright and nothing bleeds but the bad guys. The soundtrack blasts beautifully in all the right places, while never overpowering the dialogue or sound effects. The transfers of all work together harmoniously to help deliver a wonderful overall viewing experience.
Can Ya Dig It? The Making of Shaft – This is roughly 10-minute feature that sees the cast and crew talk about bringing the latest version of Shaft to life. It’s a fun watch, though it doesn’t delve to deep into anything in particular. That said, with this being the only special feature focused on this movie, it’s worth the watch if you’re a fan.
A Complicated Man: The Shaft Legacy – This 40-minute feature is broken up into four parts and delves into the history of Shaft as a character, especially his early days both in book form and in Hollywood played by Richard Roundtree. A number of people that have been involved with the character over the years, be it in movies or books talk about the influence that Shaft has had on culture and cinema, as well as a multitude of other topics. Definitely worth watching for new and old fans alike!
Deleted Scenes – If you’re a fan of deleted scenes, jump right in!
Gag Reel – Lastly there’s a gag reel. It takes a minute to get to the actual jokes and mistakes, as the reel begins with the Shaft theme playing and some more visual goof-ups. Once the dialogue kicks in and the mishaps take place, it’s a fun, albeit brief watch at under 4-minutes long.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents Shaft. Directed by: Tim Story. Written by: Kenya Barris, Alex Barnow. Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Roundtree, Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp, Titus Welliver, Method Man. Running time: 110 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Sept. 24, 2019.
Tags: Alexandra Shipp, Jessie T. Usher, Method Man, Regina Hall, Richard Roundtree, Samuel L. Jackson, Shaft, Tim Story, Titus Welliver