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Shaft (2019) Review

Time: 111 Minutes
Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft
Jessie T. Usher as John “JJ” Shaft Jr.
Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, Sr.
Alexandra Shipp as Sasha Arias
Regina Hall as Maya Babanikos
Director: Tim Story

John Shaft Jr. (Jessie T. Usher) may be an FBI cyber security expert, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education that only his dad can provide. Absent throughout his childhood, the legendary John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) agrees to help his son navigate the heroin-infested underbelly of Harlem, N.Y. Besides, the locked and loaded Shaft has his own score to settle — both professional and personal.

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I haven’t seen the 70s Shaft with Richard Roundtree, but I saw the 2000 Shaft titled Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson in the lead role, and I liked it quite a bit and had fun with it. I’ve heard some not so good things about the sequel also titled Shaft (not confusing at all), but I wanted to check it out for myself. Having 3 generations of Shaft in one movie could be something entertaining at the very least. I was expecting something somewhat entertaining, but it really was a chore to get through. It’s not surprise that it was picked up by Netflix.

The biggest problem with the movie is the screenplay, which is embarrassingly bad. Much of my problems comes from Samuel L. Jackson’s Shaft, but I’ll get to that soon. Even without that aspect, this movie is trying way too hard to be edgy, and it just comes across as being cringe more than anything. It’s trying so hard to be anti-politically correct, so I guess if you wanted that in a movie, it might be up your alley. It honestly feels like this movie would be more suited being released a couple decades ago. And if you’re wondering if the movie is some kind of commentary or satire poking fun at both millennials and out of touch older people, I highly doubt that’s the case. It’s actually rather mean spirited and hard to watch at points, and it seems like it was trying to be funny during those moments. The 2000 Shaft was a semi-serious thriller with some comedy. For whatever reason 2019 Shaft is a full on comedy, which wouldn’t be too bad if the movie was actually funny (though Richard Roundtree has some good moments). If we’re just talking about the actual plot, it’s a generic and dull crime thriller, with boring villains and very little actual thrills. You’re not really following what’s going on, not because it’s necessarily complicated, but because you just don’t care. By the time I was half an hour into the movie, I just wanted to give up on it. When it gets to the third act it picks up, as it becomes a standard action climax, still better than what came before.

There are two leads, Jessie T. Usher as JJ Shaft, the son of John Shaft, and Samuel L. Jackson, who reprises his role of John Shaft from the 2000 movie. Usher wasn’t good but I can’t blame him too much considering how little he had to work with. There was a dance/fight scene that happens in a club, and at that point I’m not really sure anyone would’ve been able to play that role with some form of credibility. His character is also quite bland and uninteresting. With all that being sad, I’m glad that he’s one of the leads, because at least it means that we have one protagonist who isn’t absolutely unlikable. When I talk about this movie being very mean spirited and all that, most of it involves Jackson’s Shaft. I really liked him in the 2000 Shaft, but here he’s just really hard to watch. It’s honestly an achievement when a movie can actually make it unbearable to watch Samuel L. Jackson in a movie. I really don’t get whose idea it was to make his Shaft a bigot who spews off sexist, homophobic and in general offensive lines, but it really made the movie all the more worse and feel out of touch. The chemistry between the two characters is so familiar and typical, it’s the whole generational boomer vs millennial dynamic. You know that it’s going to end with them finding that they have more in common than they thought. Richard Roundtree appears for the last 20 minutes and he’s easily the best amongst the cast, really wished that he appeared more in the movie, he’s a lot more bearable than Jackson’s Shaft in this movie. Also something to note, the 2000 film had Richard Roundtree has Samuel L. Jackson’s uncle, however they’ve retconned it so now he’s his father for whatever reason. The villains in the movie aren’t good at all, there’s literally nothing to say about them. The two prominent female actors of Alexandra Shipp as JJ’s girlfriend and Regina Hall as JJ’s mother and John Shaft’s ex-wife basically have nothing to do in the movie and considering the rest of the movie it’s not really surprising.

I only know Tim Story as the director of the 2000s Fantastic Four movies, and I was less than impressed with his work there. His direction of this movie is really stylistic here, but it tries way too hard. No matter how many times the movie plays that classic Shaft theme, it doesn’t improve the movie at all. The action is actually not terrible, just rather generic and underwhelming, at least it was comprehensible and wasn’t full of cuts.

Shaft is one of my least favourite movies of the year, it was way worse than it had any right to be. As a thriller it’s very weak, as a comedy its embarrassing, and as a Shaft movie it’s not a Shaft movie. Really Richard Roundtree was the only part of the movie that I fully liked. I’m honestly not sure who this movie was made for, I don’t think it’d be fans of the previous movies, and I don’t think it’s newer audiences either. If you haven’t seen any of the other Shaft movies but are reading this review, just watch Shaft from 2000. Or even watch the Shaft with Richard Roundtree, it’s no doubt way better than whatever this movie was supposed to be.