Samuel L. Jackson returns as the tough iconic private detective in “Shaft,” a fun, action-packed and entertaining sequel to the 2000 film.
Flashback to 1989. New York City Police Detective John Shaft (Jackson) is being berated by his wife, Maya (Regina Hall), over a number of things, including carrying too much cash around.
“Your name’s Shaft, not Chase. Open a checking account!”
Their argument is interrupted by armed gunmen who are trying to shoot Shaft. He quickly dispatches his would-be killers.We see a baby in the back seat of Shaft’s car. Maya explains that she cannot raise their child in his violent environment and takes him upstate.
Over the next 25 years, JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher) grows up with his mother in a normal life, along with his two best friends, Karim (Avan Jogia), who becomes a decorated military hero, and Sasha (Alexandra Shipp), who becomes a doctor. JJ goes to MIT and becomes a data analyst for the FBI in New York City in their anti-terrorist unit.
When Karim dies, supposedly of a drug overdose, JJ and Sasha learn that the concentration of drugs in his blood was too strong for him to have taken the drugs himself. JJ tries to investigate himself and realizes he is in over his head and mixing with a dangerous crowd. He also refuses to carry a gun.
“Even I have a gun and I live in a nice part of Brooklyn,” Sasha tells him.
JJ reaches out to his father for help in the investigation. Their initial encounter is awkward. Shaft makes fun of his son’s modern, millennial upbringing, with references to CNN’s Don Lemon as a non-hip man of color, and bristles when he does not know what grits are.
“I feel like I stepped into an apartment display for Pier One Imports,” Shaft says when he walks into JJ’s apartment. JJ is amazed at his father’s lack of any high-tech knowledge, knowing nothing about computers except for the one he took from a drug dealer.
JJ is reluctant to drive in Shaft’s muscle car.
“You either get in or get gone,” father says, “but if you get gone you stay gone.”
Shaft is still good with a gun and catching bad guys. While chasing a fleeing felon, Shaft shoots out the tire of a truck so it stops right in front of the bad guy as he runs right into it. Father helps son navigate through drug dealers and former military who may be suspects in his friend’s murder.
“He thinks he’s the black James Bond,” JJ says.
“If that guy was real, he’d think he was me,” Shaft says.
Father and son bond over investigations. The plot is light and formulaic as it should be for a film like this, which focuses more on breezy characters and comradery. There are inside jokes, including Shaft complaining that he is sick of “the Lawrence Fishburne comparisons.”
The black film of the early ’70s were referred to by Variety as “Blaxploitation,” following the dominant patterns of white action genres, and substituting black actors for white, and reversing racial stereotypes. The original 1971 version of “Shaft” was tough, lean, cool, hip, angry and wise. Black audiences understood immediately that Richard Roundtree’s heroic exploits as Shaft were a commentary on decades of white detective films as well as being entertaining in themselves, and more importantly, there was now a real black hero on the screen. The movie inspired two sequels and short-lived television series. Roundtree reprises his role as the original Shaft, still smart and stylish.