Some reboots are better left on the shelf.
That is the case with “Shaft” – the follow-up to John Singleton’s 2000 film (which was a reboot as well). While Singleton’s underrated restart managed to feel relevant for its time (and even more so today) while paying homage to the original source, this “Shaft” is a dreadfully tone-deaf and outdated pile of misogyny that wastes the talents of a lot of people.
“Shaft” begins with a flashback that sets up a backstory for the former police officer turned private eye John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson), who opts to leave behind his infant son and the son’s mother Maya (Regina Hall, absolutely wasted in a nothing role) to protect them from potential dangers of his job.
Almost 30 years later, the son, JJ (Jessie T. Usher) is now a cyber security expert working for the FBI who enlists the help of his estranged father when one of JJ’s childhood friends dies under mysterious circumstances.
“Shaft” was written by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow, whose previous work has mostly been in television. It could explain the odd tone throughout “Shaft,” where characters are defined by broad caricatures and stereotypes, and most of the banter looks for the lowest common denominator for a laugh – in a film where its most fatal flaw is trying to be comedy.
The coolness factor of the original “Shaft” films with Richard Roundtree (who returns briefly here) and even Jackson’s 2000 reboot was part of the charm. That coolness factor is sorely lacking here, with John Shaft portrayed as this egotistical womanizer in a rather off-putting manner.
Director Tim Story doesn’t help, bringing the same style to this as he did in his two “Ride Along” movies – so much so that this feels like this film could have easily been “Ride Along 3” with a few tweaks to the script.
Usher doesn’t have the chops or screen presence to be the lead, or provide Jackson with the actor to play off of when the film tries to get laughs.
Jackson’s performance is odd as well, seemingly stuck in limbo between “Is he really trying?” and “He clearly doesn’t care.”
The antagonists are just as underdeveloped as the protagonists – seriously lacking the impressive depth from both Christian Bale and Jeffrey Wright in Singleton’s film – which I revisited a few weeks before viewing the latest “Shaft.”
That was probably a big mistake on my part, because it left me longing for a continuation of that intriguing film – one that understood its main character’s pop-culture status but managed to put a compelling story and interesting people around him.
This “Shaft” lacks all of that and is a lazy rehash that is rather sad and frustrating to watch.