Early into Shaft (2019), Samuel L. Jackson has a line railing about “cisgender queers” or something (I’ve kinda erased it from my mind) that made me audibly groan and lean over to my friend to whisper, “Oh, this is gonna be one of those movies.” But although Jackson’s private eye is as uncouth and untactful as it gets, I’d be lying if I said that Shaft didn’t win me over by the time its credits rolled.
Shaft – which also stars Black Monday’s Regina Hall; Survivor’s Remorse’s Jessie T. Usher; and OG John Shaft, Richard Roundtree – is a sequel to the 2000 film of the same name that now unites three generations of the character. When Shaft’s estranged son JJ comes to him with a case, Shaft sees it as an opportunity to finally capture his Moby Dick and piece his family back together. Along the way, we see a pretty standard buddy cop caper, but with a sweet tinge of family drama that sets it apart from the rest of the pack.
Jackson has amazing chemistry with both Hall and Usher and, even when it comes to the worst of his movies, he never met a scene he couldn’t chew his way through. The dynamics between the three of them, set up very early on, tells us exactly the ride we’re going on. Shaft is a product of his time and his profession and JJ and Maya run counter to both of those in respective ways. Their symbiosis is the most interesting element in the movie.
The movie really benefits from its ability to be subversive to expectations. It happens numerous times. My favorite is about halfway through when Maya is on a date that Shaft crashes and ends in a shootout between Shaft and some cannon fodder henchmen. Maya’s date enters a two-shot with her, looks at the camera, and says, “You know, they say that cat Shaft is a bad mother—” But instead of the disembodied female voices coming in to say, “Shut your mouth,” as one has come to expect (and is even in the trailer), Maya instead turns to him and cuts in with, “Will you shut the f*ck up?”
My only legitimate complaint, aside from the aforementioned unnecessarily offensive dialogue in certain parts, is that the movie doesn’t have nearly enough Richard Roundtree in it. His inclusion kind of feels like an afterthought. He shows up at the beginning of the third act, does a couple things (the best of which is spoiled in the trailers, which is also admittedly the case for a lot of stuff), and then the movie ends.
Nothing about Shaft is wholly original, but it feels fresh when handed to this cast. If nothing else, they know their way around some dialogue.
Shaft hits theaters on Friday, June 14, 2019.
3.5 out of 5 motherf*ck*rs