I appreciate films that have an effortless cool about them. A cunning nod to the audience that things are going to be okay for the next two hours.
19 years ago, the late John Singleton took one of cinema’s coolest heroes, John Shaft, and refurbished him for the new generation. With Samuel L. Jackson stepping into Richard Roundtree’s shoes (while retaining the original actor in a supporting role), Singleton made an entertaining film that was the epitome of cool, easy fun.
Tim Story has done just that with his latest film, a sequel to Singleton’s film, also called Shaft. Why did he not change the name? With a character this cool and up front, there’s no need for funny wording. Just put on the coat, play the song, and get out of his way.
Jackson returns as the titular character in title, and Story takes this old lion and places him in an entirely new generation, one that includes his grown-up son, J.J. (Jessie T. Usher). When young John comes looking for his estranged father for help with the disappearance of his friend, the two men collide over more than just wardrobe and the way they speak. As they seek out the bad parties responsible, they bond in ways neither saw coming.
Look, the plot here isn’t the main entree. It works as a seasoning blanket on top of the real thrill, which is watching Jackson strut the Earth in one of his best characters, and spar with a cast that can hold their own with him. Outside of Usher and a returning Roundtree, there’s the eloquent yet fierce female pairing of Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp, as the ladies who keep these men grounded and know how to wind their clocks away from stupid ignorance.
Hall’s flair for comedy and drama makes her a perfect match for Jackson, with the two veterans trading barbs, insults, and zingers that only they can perfectly fire out. They take familiar material and make it fresh here, layering the comedy with just enough weight from their presence that you take them seriously while laughing endlessly.
I’m not lying. I laughed more in Story’s film than I have in months. Once again, the effortlessness of the wit and jokes placed here are relevant to the time and involve just enough real life pop culture (there is a great bit about men/women and equal opportunity) to keep the viewer on their toes. This isn’t a film that wants to recycle old humor and try to sneak one past you; it operates on its own dirty code of comedy, and the film thrives on it.
There are the required dose of shootouts, car chases, fighting sequences, and the other kinds of action-adventure prerequisites-but there’s enough fresh and lively humor to balance it out.
The thing I liked most about this Shaft was that it was in on the joke. I’m talking tongue-in-cheek dialogue, knowing nods to the previous two films, and an easygoing pace. This film knows exactly what it is and wants to do, which is a helpful reprieve from all the complex headaches that so many films give you these days. Identity is key in these cinematic adventures, and Story’s film is wonderfully self-aware.
Jackson is a force to reckon with as usual. From the minute he walks down the street and the music plays, the screen lights up. At first, I wasn’t sure if Usher’s protege was going to annoy me with his innocence, but soon enough, the trajectory of his character opened up, and I enjoyed it. Hall is always a delight, showing a relentlessness most actresses leave behind in this secondary role. Shipp, who also plays Storm in last week’s Dark Phoenix, has a handful of solid scenes as a woman in J.J.’s life who gives his dad a hard time. The ladies here don’t settle for damsel in distresses, and that’s great.
Story did what Singleton did, taking an old and familiar character, and refurbishing him for a new generation of fans. And you know what? He’s still cool. Shaft can still kick it. From the wired dialogue to the fast muscle car Shaft drives, this movie is like a reliable song that will make you move.
Shaft kicks off the 2019 summer season with a bang, infusing old school vibes with fresh energy, assuring the audience that it’s okay to laugh out loud and be entertained amid the superheroes with an identity complex. These heroes know exactly who they are, and it’s to our benefit.
Just get your popcorn, put your feet up, and have a good time.