Shaft (2019) Jun 16, 2019 17:33:34 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jun 16, 2019 17:33:34 GMT -5
Directed by: Tim Story
Directed by: Tim Story
Jessie T. Usher, Samuel L. Jackson, and Richard Roundtree, all part of the "Shaft" family.
To conclude my review of John Singleton's Shaft — the film that was released in 2000, a hair shy of 30 years after Gordon Parks' Shaft exploded into theaters — I mentioned how that the very things that keep Shaft, as a franchise, relevant boil down to the perception of "coolness" in a specific era as well as the culture itself. Parks' film, as underwhelming as it was in truly owning its blaxplotiation genre, showed an African-American operating against the grain by enforcing the law through vigilante methods, while Singleton's film placed those principles within the template of an urban drama.
On those notes, it makes sense that Tim Story's Shaft makes an attempt to show the divide between the touchy millennials of today and old-school (toxic) masculinity. John Shaft II's ways carry a kind of entitled ickiness that haven't aged well in the current climate. Lines like, "it's my duty to please the booty" don't land like they used to. Seeing him pow-wow with his estranged son, an agent working in the FBI's cybersecurity division, makes for quietly interesting fare, but seeing Shaft ultimately transition from an engrossing detective thriller to a middling modern comedy, while maybe the best for the film's tone, does inevitably undercut what was once a serious and seriously engaging character whose brand of comedy came from slickness as opposed to one-liners.
Early in the film, we see that John Shaft II (reprised by Samuel L. Jackson) had a child with Maya (Regina Hall), but after a shoutout that nearly leaves the three of them dead, and a helluva scolding from Maya, Shaft realizes that it's better to pack up and leave his wife to be a mother to their child in order to keep them out of harm's way. Their son, "JJ" (Jessie T. Usher) grows up knowing only of his father as someone who sends him birthday and Christmas gifts, but he eventually graduates from MIT and lands a data analytics job at the FBI. Tragedy strikes when one of JJ's friends, a former veteran and drug user, dies from an overdose that screams inflicted by somebody else. This prompts him to seek out his father and his own underground operation to help him get to the bottom of his friend's suspected murder, which involves the booksmart JJ getting a lesson in the streets of Harlem. The gravity of the job proves big enough for Shaft to involve his father and JJ's grandfather (Richard Roundtree) in the mix — talk about a lot of Shaft for one film.
Shaft was never a series tailored nor meant to be a politically correct, so I see all those criticisms as moot, reactionary, and part of the current climate that ostensibly craves to be outraged by the slightest ruffling of feathers. John Shaft has long been a caricature in a similar way as Duke Nukem; an indestructible action figure of sorts who also has a thing for beautiful women. JJ's presence brings a great deal of his father's shortcomings to light, and having our main character's son also be his biggest critic proves to be a compelling device. Shaft chastises his son for being an overly sensitive metrosexual while JJ blasts his father for his womanizing and inability to accept any kind of personal responsibility. JJ's gripes with his father are valid, and they are given some credence, which helps make Shaft a film with some sense of direction and purpose.
To reiterate, there is a bit too much comedy throughout this reboot/sequel/whatever the hell, and as such, the central mystery is undermined as our the villains, which feel far less menacing than they did in Singleton's effort. The savior comes in the form of a likable Jesse T. Usher and some decent pacing throughout a film that's admittedly a bit too long. It's just unfortunate that the excessive humor undercuts the grit inherent to this series.
However, you really can't put a price on how exciting it is to see Roundtree, Jackson, and Usher enthusiastically embrace their characters and make a dynastic trio of gun-toting hot-shots. I would argue that giving the series to someone such as Tim Story, who has been Hollywood's favorite journeyman since finding his way out of "director jail" after the Fantastic Four movies, was a bit of a misguided decision. Parks brought a photojournalist's eye to the streets of Harlem while Singleton made the most out of a huge setting and various characters. Story's direction is competent and not much else, and along with the comedy, this new direction for Shaft is sporadically entertaining but certainly questionable.
My review of Shaft (1971): stevethemovieman.proboards.com/thread/6283/shaft-1971
My review of Shaft (2000): stevethemovieman.proboards.com/thread/6284/shaft-2000
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Alexandra Shipp, and Richard Roundtree. Directed by: Tim Story.