The new Shaft, starring Jessie T. Usher as anxious FBI data analyst John Shaft, is a direct sequel to the 2000 Shaft, which starred Samuel L. Jackson as badass police detective John Shaft, who was the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original John Shaft from 1971, the one that was a sex machine to all the chicks. All three Johns Shaft appear, with Shaft II retconned to be Shaft I’s son, in this exceptionally mediocre sequel, which for some reason is a broad, unfunny generation-gap comedy instead of whatever the previous Shafts were (hard to categorize but definitely not broad, unfunny generation-gap comedies).
Though Jackson has top billing, the protagonist is Shaft III, nicknamed Junior, who’s been estranged from his father ever since his mother, Maya (Regina Hall), kicked him out because his crime-fighting Shaftian lifestyle was putting the baby in danger. (That happened in 1989 and the rest of the movie is said to be in the “present day,” but it’s also said to be 25 years later, so evidently “present day” is 2014.) Junior works in the FBI’s New York office, where he’s a desk jockey and NOT an agent, though his friend Karim (Avan Jogia) thinks he’d get more ladies if he said he was. When Karim, a recovered junkie and Army veteran, turns up dead of an overdose, Junior and platonic lady friend Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) suspect foul play, leading Junior to reunite and team up with his pops to bring down the drug lords responsible.
Shaft II, a crusading, booty-tapping firebrand in the 2000 version, has aged into an irascible, un-P.C. Archie Bunker type who complains about Millennials and holds as his primary concern the verification of whether his son is following the family tradition of being a sex machine to all the chicks. More specifically, he wants to be sure Junior “likes p***y” and isn’t gay. The addendum we’ve been getting from movie dads (at least the non-odious ones) for about 20 years now — “But of course it’s OK if you are gay” — goes unsaid and counterimplied.
Shaft II is also alarmed and amused at how the late Karim’s organization that helps veterans help each other overcome drug addiction, called Brothers Watching Brothers, sounds gay. Which … it doesn’t. Believe me, I am well attuned to things that inadvertently sound queer, and “Brothers Watching Brothers” is a stretch. Shaft II brings it up frequently, though, and sometimes other characters agree with him, and I’m like: This is a fictional organization. Couldn’t the screenwriters — Kenya Barris, creator of TV’s Blackish, and Alex Barnow, executive producer of TV’s The Goldbergs — have invented one that really did sound like double entendre? Here, let me brainstorm a few:
Brothers Touching Brothers
Brothers Coming Together
Brothers Lend a Hand
Men Getting Off (Drugs)
Lay Down the Pipe, Bro
Don’t Do Drugs, Do Your Friends
Anyway, Junior, a wisecracking chatterbox in the Kevin Hart mold but respectful to women, calls his dad out on his bad behavior, but he does it as weakly as he does everything else. Junior is also fervently antigun, but of course he’s ultimately forced to use one anyway (and is great at it), which turns out to be a literal aphrodisiac for Sasha, because ultimately the movie is on Dad’s (and Grandad’s) side with regard to what a p***y Junior is. (Richard Roundtree shows up for a few scenes at the end for no good reason other than for us to see the three of them together and hopefully not notice that he’s only six years older than Samuel L. Jackson.)
There is an excruciating scene where Shaft II learns that Junior’s mom, his ex-wife, has a date, and shows up at the restaurant to cause trouble. The button on this scene is when the date says admiringly, “That Shaft is one bad mother–” and Maya says, “Shut the f*** up.” I should also mention that Shaft II and Maya have not aged a day between 1989 and the present, when they’d have to be at least 60.
Don’t worry, plenty of drug dealers and other lowlifes are punched and shot and thrown out of windows, but neither that nor any of Shaft’s other trademarks seem important to the director, Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Ride Along), who is no stranger to bad movies. I’m at a loss to explain how anyone thought any of this would appeal to fans of the film that invented blaxploitation, as it bears no resemblance to it or even to the lukewarm 2000 version. What a tedious and embarrassing, non-badass spectacle.