Something, anything to watch in between this year’s torrent of Disney blockbusters
“Shaft” (Rated C/ U.S.- Rated R)
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie Usher, Richard Roundtree, Regina Hall
Genre: Action Comedy
Yes, I know!
“Shaft” (2019) was released weeks ago – June 14 to be exact – and it’s not even playing in local theaters anymore.
And to make matters worse, a few weeks ago, in rationalizing why I opted to see “Men in Black: International” and “Rocketman” instead, I made what some might call “disparaging” comments about it.
I wrote: “I didn’t even waste time with ‘Shaft’ – officially ‘Shaft (2019)’, so as not to be confused with its prequel ‘Shaft (2000)’, which was a sequel to ‘Shaft (1971)’ [or is it a sequel to that film’s sequels ‘Shaft’s Big Score!’ (1972) and ‘Shaft in Africa’ (1973)? – Ah, the Sweet Mysteries of Life!])”
And, yet, after all of that, here we are with a review of “Shaft”. Surely there much be something more recent on the big screen?
Well, since March, as theaters have swung from tentpoles of Disney blockbusters to other Disney blockbusters (and Sony’s Spider-Man), few films other than “Us” (and possibly, arguably, the latest “John Wick”) have been able to get much traction, and many other movies opening during this Disneypocalypse have been lost in the shuffle or just plain snooze-worthy.
And as the world awaits today’s opening of Disney’s remake of its own “The Lion King”, and as last week’s only major new release “Stuber” looks like something to watch only on the laziest or dreariest day on some cable network television or Netflix, “Shaft” seemed like the least painless choice.
Speaking of Netflix, the latest “Shaft” is a collaboration between the streaming service and Warner Bros.’ New Line Cinema, which gave Netflix the rights to run it in international markets (including The Bahamas) within just a few weeks of its opening.
In the new version, John “JJ” Shaft Jr. (Jesse Usher) may be an FBI cyber security expert, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education that only his dad can provide. Absent throughout his childhood, the legendary John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) agrees to help his son navigate the heroin-infested underbelly of Harlem, N.Y. Besides, the locked-and-loaded Shaft has his own score to settle – both professional and personal.
These films have essentially been one connected storyline from 1971. Richard Roundtree, the original Shaft from “Shaft”, is still here, making cameos after passing the baton on to Samuel L. Jackson in 2000.
With that reboot at the turn of the century, Roundtree and Jackson’s characters (both named John Shaft) were said to be uncle and nephew. You’re being asked to forget all about that now, however. Nineteen years later, it’s been decided it would make some sense for them to be father and son – despite Roundtree being just SIX years older than the 70-year-old Jackson.
And now, with JJ in the mix, we’ve got a multi-generational buddy comedy, in the “Lethal Weapon” vein. The back-and-forth sparring between JJ and his father is especially reminiscent of another Jackson action-comedy involving a mismatched duo: 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” with Ryan Reynolds.
Actually, the interactions between Jackson and Usher are the most interesting part of the whole picture, which is otherwise, not surprisingly, verbally aggressive, violent and largely derivative. However, it’s more entertaining than I was expecting, and probably would have been a much better choice than the mind-numbing “Men in Black: International”.
But it’s hard to get beyond that feeling that we’ve seen this all before many times, and not just because it’s yet another movie named “Shaft”.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.
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