Shaft – Equal Parts Badass and Funny

This past weekend I went to the movies for a double feature. First film on the template was Fox’s Dark Phoenix, and i can honestly say it was just meh. The story is nearly identical to X-Men 3: The Last Stand, minus the charisma of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Kelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy. It was a more comic faithful adaptation to the original comic source material but it felt like several of the cast phoned in their performances. If you had no idea about the source material, which most movie goers don’t, you would never know the villains are the Shi’ar Empire. Originally the villains were slated to be the Skrulls ( of Captain Marvel fame); but when Disney/Marvel released Captain Marvel with the Skrulls as major players, extensive re-shoots were required to change the story of Dark Phoenix. The action sequences are very cool, particularly when involving Nightcrawler and Storm, but overall it was an okay film. Not one to spend your money on to see in theaters, you can wait for it to come out on Netflix/Blu Ray.

The second film of my double feature was Shaft, the direct sequel to the 2000 film starring Samuel L Jackson, which in itself was a sequel/reboot of the 1971 classic Blaxploitation film starring Richard Roundtree. This film stars both Jackson and Roundtree with newcomer Jessie Usher as John “JJ” Shaft III, Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp also star as Maya Babanikos (Shaft II’s ex-wife and mother of JJ) and Sasha Aria (JJ’s love interest and childhood friend) respectively.

STORY

The film centers around JJ and his quest for justice following the death of his childhood friend Karim Hassan. Karim was a veteran struggling with substance abuse rehabilitation that got wrapped up in a drug smuggling ring in Harlem. When he is found dead from an apparent overdose, both JJ and Sasha don’t buy it and JJ goes to his distant father John Shaft II (Jackson) for help. Together father and son enter the Harlem underworld and discover the case JJ is working on is linked to a case Shaft was working in the 80’s before JJ was out of diapers. When things get bigger than either of them anticipated they recruit John Shaft Sr. (Roundtree) for help in taking down the organization.

Alexandra Shipp, Jessie Usher, Samuel L Jackson and Richard Roundtree on the set of Shaft 2019

The story is pretty boiler plate but the chemistry between the cast is what makes the film. It’s a standard buddy cop comedy/action film but the father/son dynamic really helps to drive home a lot of the comedy. JJ has spent his life with his mother, far from his father, and as such has grown up with a more modern view of the world. Shaft is still living in Harlem and acts like the world is still in the 80’s. They do make several age and millennial jokes, as is a staple with this kind of film, but the naivety that JJ has at the beginning of the film quickly disappears when he realizes how dark and gritty the world can be. One of the funniest parts of the movie comes from when Shaft takes JJ to a club and introduces him to some ladies, hilarity ensues which ends up with an ass whoopin’. The big reveal is able to be seen coming from a mile away, but it still adds a layer of tension to the proceedings as the characters progress through the story.

The final act with all three generations of Shaft working together to take down the bad guys is just a fun gun toting action sequence. Jackson and Roundtree specifically, prove that even though they’re older they can still open up a can of street justice and lay a beat down when the occasion calls for it. One particular scene involving Roundtree and a nefarious henchman elicited quite a laugh from the entire crowd.

As I said before the story is predictable, but it’s still a fun adventure.

MUSIC/COSTUMES

The firs thing that i have to say, the music was perfect! The original Shaft theme and the more modern hip hop and rap throughout perfectly blended together. There is one particular scene with JJ and Shaft fighting over the radio highlighting the music of their generations. The action sequences had their own unique soundtracks to each one and the blend of funk/ soul/ rap and hip-hop wouldn’t work for every movie, but it definitely works for this one.

The costumes were very functional and fit each person perfectly. JJ works with a more young modern professional whereas Shaft is classic dark pants, black turtle neck and trench coat.

What is it about all badasses wearing a trench coat?

The final scene with all three generations of Shaft dressed exactly the same in their turtle necks and trench coats… just perfect!

One thing that actually made me happy for no reason was when the Shaft boys are gearing up and engaging in the final shootout, they all have a different type of hat on. Shaft Sr. Has a loose fitting touque, Shaft has the classic touque/ tuna boat captain hat, and JJ has a tight beanie. Again, not sure why, but it just made me smile.

Samuel L Jackson as John Shaft II (left); Richard Roundtree as John Shaft I (center); Jessie Usher as John “JJ” Shaft III (right)

ACTION

Unlike most action films, this one took a very subdued approach to the action. There isn’t much, but when it’s there it’s actually believable. Gone are the days of the 80’s/90’s action films with the unlimited magazine sizes for the good guys and the terrible aim of the bad guys. The gun fights are quick and gritty and the bullet physics is accurate right up until the final moment of the film.

The hand to hand fighting, what little there is, also lends itself into the realm of reality instead of complete fiction. There is a scene where JJ does some form of dance fighting and kicks the crap out of a guy and I laughed the whole way through because it reminded me of Michael Jackson in Scary Movie 3 beating up Charlie Sheen with his dance moves.

The injuries that come from the action are very accurate and plausible. No longer do we see people flying back 20+ feet when they get shot with a shotgun point blank. The damage done from bullets, fists, and other weapons looks real and visceral when needed.

OVERALL

The film reeks of nostalgia and 80’s buddy cop vibes. As a fan of Lethal Weapon, 21 & 22 Jump Street and a myriad of other buddy cop films, this addition to the Shaft franchise stands as one of the most fun buddy cop films in recent years. Sam Jackson, Richard Roundtree and Jessie Usher knock it out of the park as the dysfunctional Shaft boys that everyone knows by reputation if not personally. The movie clocks in at only 1 hour and 51 minutes making it a relatively short film by today’s standards. It’s crude, it’s violent, it’s funny and it’s got a great family message that hidden underneath all the “Mother f*ckers”. What starts as a film about trying to force a relationship between a father and his son turns into a movie about how family will do whatever it takes to protect their own. I would rate the movie a solid 8.3/10. It was a lot of fun and the nostalgia factor was there but it was predictable and they turned Shaft from this badass take no prisoners type of lone wolf to a crude horny old man. That being said, it was still a great time at the theater! If my grandma was still alive, she would’ve been ecstatic! Three generations of Shaft in one movie?! Hell yeah!

See you later this week!

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