Review: SHAFT Hits The Right Spots

shaft three generations
(L-R) JESSIE T. USHER as John "JJ" Shaft, SAMUEL L. JACKSON as John Shaft and RICHARD ROUNDTREE as John Shaft, Sr. in New Line Cinema's action comedy "SHAFT," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Kyle Kaplan.

Shaft is a new reboot/sequel to the blaxploitation action series started by the 1971 film of the same name. This entry, directed by Tim Story (Fantastic Four) and co-written by Kenya Barris (black-ish) and Alex Barnow (The Goldbergs), follows the grandson of the original John Shaft as he teams up with his family to investigate the suspicious death of his best friend.

This movie’s story is definitely predictable, but luckily, it isn’t just a rehash of the original (or the 2000 reboot). Instead, it is a straightforward but enjoyable whodunit mystery in which our protagonists are investigating a crime and exploring a bunch of false leads before finally solving the mystery. That solution is obvious from the moment the story gets started, but it is still fun to go along for the ride.

The best part of this film is that it manages to capture the spirit of the iconic original. The 2000 reboot felt too serious, and the blaxploitation genre was always meant to be wacky and over-the-top. This movie embraces that and then some, even going as far as poking fun at itself multiple times. The writers truly pulled no punches when it came to pushing boundaries, and the film benefits as a result.

The humor of the movie is definitely very edgy, and although it may offend some with its misogyny and racism exhibited by some characters, those are aspects that were true of the original blaxploitation films, and the younger characters in the movie are constantly making fun of the older characters for holding those beliefs. There is plenty of humor throughout, meaning that the film moves along at a solid pace.

shaft stealth
(L-R) ALEXANDRA SHIPP as Sasha, JESSIE T. USHER as John “JJ” Shaft and SAMUEL L. JACKSON as John Shaft in New Line Cinema’s action comedy “SHAFT,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Additionally, the action in the movie is very good and well-shot. There are some very impressive action sequences, especially towards the middle of the film, that feel like they are drawn straight out of the 1970’s. Although the big finale is a bit anticlimactic because it feels too reliant on modern action techniques, it is still enjoyable to watch.

That said, the most surprising part of the movie is that it manages to pull off the more heartfelt moments in a way that feels entirely natural. The father-son storyline is very compelling and works quite well. This subplot doesn’t feel like an afterthought like it would in most other action films, but instead, a focal point of the story around which legitimate conflict was built.

For the most part, the cast of the movie was pretty good. Jessie T. Usher is the weakest link in the ensemble, but he doesn’t do a bad job. There are a few scenes, particularly the dramatic ones towards the beginning of the film, in which his delivery is unnatural, but he nails the comedic persona of the character. He and Samuel L. Jackson have great chemistry together, and Jackson is obviously having fun returning to this role. Richard Roundtree also makes a very funny extended cameo, a majority of which was shown in the trailers.

Another thing that the movie did quite well was the soundtrack. Music has always been an integral part of the blaxploitation genre, especially during the action sequences. The soundtrack and score are both great, comprised mostly of modern takes on music and sounds from the 1970’s, including the now iconic theme song from the original film.

Overall, Shaft delivered exactly what fans will want it to do. Even though it may not be the greatest movie, it is a ton of fun and a love letter to a subgenre and style of action cinema that went extinct long ago.

Shaft opens in theaters on June 14.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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