There wasn’t anything funny about John Shaft—not at first, anyway. While both the original and the lukewarm 2000 remake always had an element of humor, there was no winking to the camera about this badder-than-bad avenger of the streets of Harlem. Not so with this latest entry in the Shaft cinematic universe.
In fact, from the above trailer, it looks like Shaft has been turned into a straight-up comedy. Perhaps this is just what comes of having two sitcom creators pen the script (it was co-written by Black-ish’s Kenya Barris and The Goldbergs’ Alex Barnow), but it sure seems as though the movie wants to let the air out of everything that once made Shaft cool. There’s a distinctly man-out-of-time element to the humor here, as the arrival of John Shaft’s grown son, John Shaft, Jr. (played by Jessie Usher from Creed II and Starz’ Survivor’s Remorse) leads to depictions of Samuel Jackson’s Shaft as a guy being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Richard Roundtree again returns to play Jackson’s father, the original Shaft, but other than that, the tone of this latest iteration is pure light-hearted comic romp, a sharp left turn for this now-trilogy of movies.
The plot, such as it is, finds John Jr. reuniting with his estranged father after becoming an expert in cybersecurity at MIT, only to wind up pulled into one of his dad’s cases. The three generations of Shafts then kick ass and make jokes, all while toying with the tropes that once made the character an icon, and are now played for laughs at their outdated appeal. If you don’t mind the abrupt change of style and tone, there are some good gags here, so hopefully Shaft will be worth seeing, even if he’s no longer the baddest motherfucker in town. Though, let’s be honest: New director Tim Story’s track record makes us nervous.