Shaft (2019)

When his best friend, Army vet Karim (Avan Jogia), dies of a heroin overdose, FBI analyst John Shaft Jr. (Jessie T. Usher) finds it suspicious, his friend not only haven gotten clean, but involved with Brothers Watching Brothers, a group supporting addicted vets. But the gun loathing young man does not fare well when he attempts to follow clues that lead him into Harlem's drug underground. Needing help, he turns to the father his mother has kept him away from all his life because of his violent lifestyle, John "Shaft."

Laura's Review: B

Why do they keep calling these movies "Shaft?" Back in 2000, the late John Singleton brought Samuel L. Jackson into the role, not as the original "Shaft," but his nephew in a sequel titled "Shaft" just like the 1971 original. 'Black-ish's' Kenya Barris and 'The Goldbergs's' Alex Barnow have also reshuffled family ties for this third "Shaft," Richard Roundtree back again, this time as the father to Jackson's Shaft, a change explained with a throwaway line in the film's third act. New director Tim Story has changed the dynamic as well, the odd couple pairing of cool cat Shaft and the metrosexual, gun-loathing son raised to be completely different from his dad right out of his "Ride Along" playbook. Fortunately, Jackson and Usher's pairing proves a lot more fun. The film kicks off with a 1989 flashback which explains two things - Shaft's continued desire for revenge against Harlem drug lord Pierro “Gordito” Carrera (Isaach De Bankolé) and why main squeeze Maya (Regina Hall) took their child and left (a small matter of a baby in the backseat during a gun battle with said drug gang). An opening credits montage reveals Shaft's attempts to stay in his son's life through a series of increasingly inappropriate Christmas, birthday and graduation gifts. JJ, as John Jr. is known, uses his position to get his hands on important information, like Karim's autopsy report which he shows mutual college friend Sasha (Alexandra Shipp), a doctor who recognizes that the amount of heroin in Karim's system would have been impossible for him to self-administer. But when JJ travels to the location where Karim's body was found, he's smart alecked by a kid on a bike (Jalyn Hall) before getting the name of area dealer Manny (Ian Casselberry) whose thugs quickly disable him. Meanwhile JJ's F.B.I. boss, Special Agent Vietti (Titus Welliver), warns him to take a back seat to more experienced players when a politically sensitive surveillance case on the Rashad Azzam Mosque is announced. (Bonus points to those who suspect this mosque and dad's old nemesis might be tied to Karim's death.) The plot is almost beside the point in a movie like 2019's "Shaft," which exists solely to enjoy Samuel L. Jackson's cool quotient. Expect to hear his signature swear involving mothers, as well as 2000's catch phrase 'It's my duty to please that booty.' Neither prepares us for the hilarious sight gag that greets JJ when he knocks on dad's office door, a bit of curiously placed glitter telling a raunchy tale. Do be prepared for a lot of sexist references and homophobic jokes (neither elder Shaft can get over the name of Karim's charity) that keep Shaft tethered to his 1970's origins. Samuel L. Jackson meshes well with Usher, at first disparaging his son's abilities, then becoming impressed, especially when his son gets drunk at an underground club he's dragged him to and takes someone out with Capoeira, the Brazilian 'dance' martial art. Unconventional, but effective. Dad also nudges JJ's platonic relationship to the place Sasha's clearly waiting for it to be while waiting for the reemerged Maya to succumb to his charms. Hall gives as good as she gets in the combative, yet evenly matched relationship, taking a more proactive role when that 1989 flashback is paralleled during a restaurant date (with Leland L. Jones's Ron) in the present. She's comedy gold spouting off on Shaft in a powder room mirror, oblivious to an onlooker. Roundtree comes into play in the film's third act, his cool more deadpan than Jackson's. The climactic finale takes place in a glass walled Manhattan penthouse, the better for comedic missteps swinging in and dramatic deaths on the way out. By film's end, JJ has ditched his 'badminton sneakers,' striding down the street with dad and granddad all wearing matching black turtlenecks and rust colored leather dusters. Here's hoping these three don't wait another nineteen years before the next "Shaft." Grade:

Robin's Review: DNS