“SHAFT” RETROGRADE EXPLOSIVE ACTION; “CITY ON A HILL” ON TV
A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley
“SHAFT” (Rated R) During the era of Exploitation cinema in the early 1970s, Richard Roundtree was the original macho private detective and the epitome of cool when the exploits of John Shaft first came to the big screen in the eponymous “Shaft.”
Even though Samuel L. Jackson may be a senior citizen, he still has what it takes to be the man of action who punches first and asks questions later as he works the tough streets of Harlem in the 2019 version of “Shaft.”
This reboot is a combination of action and comedy, which should be obvious from the film’s trailer, but more than that, it is unapologetically retrograde for its swaggering action and its political incorrectness.
Jackson’s John Shaft is everything you might expect for a tone lifted right out of the Seventies. There is plenty of outdated sexist lingo and more than a few expletives, including Jackson’s signature curse word (which we’ll leave out of this review). An early flashback reveals that Shaft is in a relationship with Maya (Regina Hall) and they have a baby boy. Another violent ambush convinces Maya that it’s time to get out of Harlem for the safety of their son.
In the present day, Shaft’s progeny is JJ (Jesse T. Usher), a buttoned-down MIT graduate who now works as a data analyst in the Manhattan office of the FBI. His world is far removed. When his ex-junkie best friend meets a mysterious untimely death, JJ needs the kind of help that only his streetwise father can provide to navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly.
Imagine the shock for Shaft when meeting his adult son, who recalls with disappointment all the inappropriate holiday gifts from his father including porn magazines and a box of condoms at an age when he hadn’t even reached puberty.
Soon thereafter, the jokes are flying when Shaft muses that Maya raised a “white boy” who by his manner of meticulous fashion sense and grooming allows for the facile jab that casts him as manifestly metrosexual.
Unlike his tough, playboy father, the mild-mannered JJ hates guns, drinks coconut water and hasn’t got the gumption to ask his longtime crush Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) out on a date. As Shaft and son team up to run rampant through tenement buildings and the mean streets of Harlem, there may not be any logical or persuasive storyline, but that doesn’t really matter.
To prove the Shaft genetic traits may yet course through JJ’s veins, Shaft’s own father, now played by the iconic Richard Roundtree, gets in the act for a climactic showdown with bad guys that requires a vast supply of weapons and ammunition.
The throwback attitude of “Shaft” is almost certain to engender a dichotomy between a mostly satisfied audience and probably the majority of critics who may have their finely-tuned sensibilities offended.
“Shaft” shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone. Its irreverent spirit deliberately mines the humor of the Shaft family generational gap. Mindless fun at the expense of Shaft’s character as a cultural icon is what is offered.