REVIEW: SHAFT is a throwback to the buddy cop comedies of the 80’s and the original blacksploitation classic.


Black-ish creator and Girls Trip co-writer Kenya Barris along with Family Guy’s Alex Barnow craft a script that follows the too cool to suffer fools blueprint of the original franchise, while embedding it with a sense of the urban culture of today.

Some might question whether director Tim Story’s reboot/sequel to the 2000 Shaft film is something people were really in a clamor to make happen. the 2000 film introduced Samuel L. Jackson, fresh off of being minted a superstar due to his roles in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown in the ’90s, seemed the ideal star to introduce the iconic street hero Shaft to a new generation. That film, directed by John Singleton, was more of a grounded crime film, featuring one of Christian Bale’s earliest roles, playing a thinly veiled parody of Donald Trump as a corrupt real estate developer who commits a racially motivated murder.

Story’s take on the Shaft mythos starts off in 1989, predating that film. Here, Shaft is a young father whose wife leaves him after a shoot-out with a drug-lord nicknamed El Gordito who almost kills Shaft’s infant son, JJ. Shaft’s wife, Maya (Regina Hall) raises their son JJ (Jesse Usher) down the straight and narrow, leading to his career as an FBI database and an estranged relationship with his father. It is while working with the FBI that he reconnects with his childhood friends Karim (Avan Jogia) and Sasha (Alexandra Shipp). Karim was a veteran who suffered from PTSD and fell into drugs but overcame that by starting a group called Brothers Helping Brothers with fellow veterans. Karim wants to confide some news to JJ, but doesn’t at the last minute. The next day his body is found, an overdose is ruled as the cause. Neither JJ nor Sasha feel that he would go back to drugs, the FBI is no help to JJ, so he goes to check out the one source he thinks can get the job done since Karim’s death happened in Harlem, his father, Shaft.

From here, the bulk of the movie is something out of a buddy cop action comedy from the 1980s in the vein of 48 Hours, Running Scared, Beverly Hills Cop, or Lethal Weapon, with JJ being the straight-laced FBI officer to Shaft’s street-wise rough and tumble private detective. The interesting thing is that this genre literally defined most films from the 1980s, but has largely been dormant for the past decade or so having been overtaken by procedural cop films. Barris and Barnow have a lot of fun here with Shaft’s lifestyle being that of a womanizing old man who knows his way of doing things, while JJ is a lot like Marcus Scribner’s character Andre Johnson Jr. on Harris’ show Black-ish, kind of nerdy, awkward guy who relies on modern conveniences to do a lot of the heavy lifting in his job, but this belies the fact that he is able to shoot and fight but is not a fan of doing so. There’s also a generational element as once the 2 junior Shaft’s find that their initial feelings regarding money laundering and a mosque being sources of drugs become problematic, they turn to Shaft’s father, Richard Roundtree’s Shaft for help (with help from a minor retcon from 2000’s Shaft). Roundtree has a lot of fun in the film and the 3 of them have great chemistry. Meanwhile, Regina Hall is hilarious in the film and Alexandra Shipp, mostly known as Storm in the last couple of X-Men films, really shines. She steals most of the scenes she’s in and has a great future ahead of her in films where she doesn’t have to get stuck with a bad accent and wig.

If you enjoy comedies in the line of Girls Trip or Blackish and have enjoyed action comedies in the past, Shaft will be right up your alley. If you’re looking for a more straight forward action film, this might not be your cup of tea. But as far as urban cop comedies with action elements in vein of Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Lethal Weapon 2, you’ll probably dig Shaft.