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"SHAFT"
(2019) (Jessie Usher, Samuel L. Jackson) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Comedy: When one of his friends mysteriously dies, a young FBI data analyst seeks out the help of his estranged father, a former cop turned old school and streetwise private detective.
PLOT:
John "JJ" Shaft (JESSIE USHER) is a young man who works for the FBI as a data analyst, something his military vet friend Karin (AVAN JOGIA) says he should lie about being an actual agent for the bureau. When Karin ends up dead from a reported heroin overdose, JJ can't believe that, something their mutual physician friend Sasha (ALEXANDRA SHIPP) says seems suspicious due to the high amount of the drug in his system.

Figuring out who his late friend's former dealer is, JJ runs afoul of that man and his goons and thus seeks out the help of his estranged father, John Shaft II (SAMUEL L. JACKSON). He hasn't seen that cop turned old school and streetwise private detective since his mother, Maya (REGINA HALL), took JJ away as an infant to raise him by herself.

Realizing he can use his son's FBI access to track down a criminal he's been after for years, John agrees to help his son, although he's sarcastically dismayed at his son having grown up into a sensitive young man unlike himself. As their ways of dealing with people clash, the father and son end up working together to investigate Karin's death. In doing so, and with the help of John's uncle, John Shaft Sr. (RICHARD ROUNDTREE), they end up uncovering a larger criminal enterprise than they were initially expecting.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
As long as there are fathers and sons, there will usually be father-son conflicts. I guess that's just the nature of the family beast, so to speak, as the fathers often can't believe their offspring has somehow ended up so different than them, while the sons often view their dads as relics of the past, operating with a different and seemingly outdated code of behavior toward others.

That's the driving force behind "Shaft," the fifth offering in the titular film series that started way back in 1971 with Richard Roundtree playing the character, spun off two quick sequels in the following two years and was resurrected in 2000 where Samuel L. Jackson played the nephew to that man, albeit with the same name.

Likely now holding the record for most intervening years in between sequels -- the last span was twenty-seven and now we're at nineteen -- this version has taken a decidedly different approach than its predecessors. And that is that it's now arrived in the form of an action-comedy film rather than the so-called blaxploitation aura of the first three films or the dramatic thriller of the immediate predecessor.

Following a prologue that shows John (Jackson) and his wife Maya (Regina Hall) in a parked car back in 1989 that gets shot up by henchmen but miraculously neither of them or their toddler son in the back is harmed, we quickly proceed through a montage of scenes that have that boy growing up apart from his father who quits the force and becomes a private detective.

When the film finally stops its forward progression in today's time, JJ (Jessie Usher) is now a data analyst for the FBI with two good friends in Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) and Karin (Avan Jogia) and is still close to his mom but hasn't had contact with his dad -- outside of inappropriate gifts -- in decades.

But then Karin -- a military vet and recovering addict -- ends up dead, supposedly from a heroin overdose. But Sasha, a doctor, and especially JJ don't believe it, and thus the young man starts snooping around for answers. After a bad run-in with some drug dealers, he seeks out his father's help and that's when the father-son issues -- and related comedy -- start festering.

Dear old dad can't believe this gun-hating, won't drink in the morning millenial sprung from his loins, while the son sees his father as a politically incorrect, macho man who takes the law into his own hands. The two performers -- under the direction of Tim Story who works from a script by Kenya Barris & Alex Barnow -- get decent comedy mileage out of the "odd couple" pairing and while much of the material is decidedly R-rated and often politically incorrect it generates some decent laughs.

Which is good since the rest of the plot -- where the two men uncover an ever-increasing criminal enterprise tied to the now suspected murder of the friend -- clearly isn't as inspired and certainly isn't anything new or even a fresh spin on such elements. In fact, I'm comfortable saying it really isn't a good movie, and its politically incorrect humor will likely rub some (or maybe a lot) of viewers the wrong way.

There are laughs to be had, just not enough to offset the deficiencies and thus this latest installment of "Shaft" (watch for the next one in, say, the 2030s or '40s based on the track record so far) rates as just a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 10, 2019 / Posted June 14, 2019


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