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Derrick Dunn

“Shaft” Is Still The Man

Iconic African American police detective John Shaft returns to the big screen in Warner Bros. Pictures, Shaft from director Tim Story. The latest Shaft film opens in 1989 and finds John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson) arguing with his wife Maya (Regina Hall) and mother of his newborn son John “JJ” Shaft Jr. After an assassination attempt on the family’s life, Maya decides it’s best to leave Shaft, for the safety of not only herself but the couple’s son as well.

Thirty years later JJ (Jesse Usher) is a data analyst working for the FBI. When JJ’s childhood friend Karin (Avan Jogia) winds up dead after a suspected overdose, JJ makes it his mission to find out what happened. To achieve his goal, JJ seeks out the help of father and now private investigator John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson). Along the way hopefully, JJ can rebuild a relationship with the man he never knew.

Originating in a 1970 novel by writer Ernest Tidyman and later immortalized on screen with a portrayal by Richard Roundtree a year later, the character of Shaft is one of my favorites, as he was tough but still down to earth. I always remember the excitement I felt in 1997 when I found out one of my favorite directors, John Singleton, was going to direct a sequel to the original trilogy.

The fifth film in the Shaft franchise somewhat follows the formula that director John Singleton established in his Samuel L. Jackson starring 2000 sequel by tweaking the character for its time. Singleton’s take on Shaft showcased a wisecracking Shaft. In this film, John “JJ” Shaft Jr doesn’t like guns, isn’t a ladies man and objects to profanity. Thanks in part to a winning performance from Jesse Usher, Kenya Barris’s and Alex Barrow script avoids making John “JJ” Shaft Jr a nerd caricature. Jesse Usher’s take on the third generation Shaft is that of a modern millennial. Usher portrays the character as a modern man, who would instead use technology then fists to solve his problem.

Known primarily for directing comedies, Tim Story handles the action sequences in Shaft with precision. One of the things that I must give credit to the director and screenwriter for is the build-up of the chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Jesse Usher. Both actors portray the absentee father and son angle, very well. Jackson’s Shaft wonders why Usher’s Shaft isn’t more like him. In hindsight, it appears that there was an underlying message of the importance of the black father in their son’s lives, and the message is successful.

The supporting cast was also enjoyable. Regina Hall provides us with her natural on-screen charm, while Alexandra Shipp is a delight as Shaft Jr’s love interest. The highlight of the supporting cast though for me was the return of the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree. Showing up in the last fifteen minutes of the film, to assist his son and grandson, Roundtree is still cool as ice at the age of seventy-seven.

As much I enjoyed Shaft, there were two minor issues with the film. The omission of Isaac Hayes’s legendary score from the original movie is vastly underused. I also didn’t like the weak characterization of our primarily villain Gordito (Isaach De Bankolé). A talented actor in his own right, Isaach De Bankolé is reduced to ten minutes of screen time.

With the perfect mix of action, heart, and comedy, Shaft is the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer. Serving as a sequel and a possible passing the torch, the newest entry in the Shaft franchise is a winner.

Final Grade B+

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