First Hit: Simply, this is Samuel L. Jackson’s film through and through.
It’s hard to take this film seriously, and it is seriously fun to watch. Jackson, as John Shaft, is still the king of the neighborhood, has a stern attitude, and rollicks through this story taking full ownership.
This story begins when he and his wife Maya Babanikos (Regina Hall) are arguing in their car. JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher), their baby, is in the back seat. As usual, where Shaft is, there is trouble, and a shootout will more than likely commence.
Maya has had enough and, with JJ in tow, leaves Shaft and tells him to stay away forever. The film rolls through the years quickly, with funny vignettes showing the birthday presents Shaft sends JJ (box of rubbers on JJ’s 10th).
In current time JJ is now an FBI data analyst, and he stumbles on to a possible crime because his best friend, Karim Hassan (Avan Jogia) dies of what the police say is an overdose.
At work, he doesn’t get assigned to the FBI probe into the local mosque, although he’s an outstanding analyst, and he thinks Karin was involved in the mosque’s activities.
He locates and waltzes into his dad’s office, looking for some help in finding what really went on in Hassan’s death. Meeting for the first time in twenty plus years, the reunion is filled with John Shaft ego and bragging moments and advice that is contrary to JJ’s beliefs. This is the moment when the audience knows we’re going on a Samuel L. Jackson E-Ticket (for those who remember Disneyland long ago) wild ride.
Going to visit Manny (Ian Casselberry) the local Bronx heroin dealer, they run roughshod, over his group of thugs. And here is where JJ starts to re-think that his passiveness and begins to see some value in his dad’s way of resolving problems.
Some of the amusing parts of the film include JJ’s attempts to share his romantic interest for his longtime friend Sasha Arias (Alexandra Shipp). When John Shaft first meets Sasha, when she pulls a gun out of her purse at a restaurant, and how she dreamily looks at JJ when he jumps into action during a dinner they have.
The story goes on, and eventually, we get introduced to John Shaft Sr. (Richard Roundtree), and this completes the cycle. The original Shaft, the current Shaft, and the upcoming Shaft.
Don’t go to this film if you are looking to watch a serious movie. This film is tongue-in-cheek, and it’s fun.
Jackson is this film. He’s the reason you laugh and are engaged in the story because you wonder what he’ll do next. Hall is excellent as Shaft’s estranged wife. Her quips about Shaft’s focus are hilarious. Usher is wonderful as the passive smart FBI agent who finds his roots through meeting his father. Shipp is excellent as JJ’s friend and later girlfriend. Her shift in attitude towards Shaft’s lifestyle was subtle and fun. Roundtree was great to see, and as a reminder of the original song and film, I smiled. Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow wrote an entertaining active script. Tim Story knew that he needed to let Jackson run roughshod over this film because Samuel will make it work, he always does.
Overall: If you’re looking for action entertainment and don’t mind a lot of swearing, this is a film for you.