If Shaft succeeds at anything, it’s making sure that Isaac Hayes’ classic theme gets stuck in your head for DAYS.
Samuel L. Jackson returns as Detective John Shaft for the first time since 2000’s Shaft, directed by the late John Singleton. This time around, the “sex machine with all the chicks” makes it a family affair, as Jackson teams up with his father — the original Shaft (Richard Roundtree) — and JJ, his estranged son/FBI agent (the very charming Jessie T. Usher). to go after the bad guys. Lots of gun fights and LOL-worthy one-liners ensue in director Tim Story’s action comedy that’s kind of flown under the radar this summer.
As Shaft hits theaters almost two decades after his last big-screen outing, here are three reasons you should get on board with the reunion tour with one of the coolest characters Hollywood has ever made.
1. Regina Hall Kills It
As Girls Trip and the underrated Support the Girls already proved, Regina Hall needs to be in every movie.
Hall is always a natural, inviting presence and Shaft gives her another showcase of her effortless charms. As JJ’s mother, Maya, the obvious, sitcom-y script by Kenya Barris (Black-ish) and Alex Barnow (Family Guy) affords her with slightly above the bare minimum to do, but what screen time Hall does have will leave audiences wishing she not only had more of it, but also her own movie. As one of Shaft’s many lady friends from back in the day, her chemistry with Usher and Jackson gives their comedic beats an extra pulse that elevates the material by investing their characters with considerably more than what’s on the page.
2. Samuel L. Jackson’s One-Liners
Remember when Judd Apatow movies would hit home video with a “Line-o-Rama” bonus feature that was just a collection of deleted (and often hilarious) line readings? Warner Bros. and New Line should do something similar on Shaft‘s Blu-ray with Jackson’s one-liners.
It’s been 19 years since Jackson last strutted onto the scene as John Shaft, but the actor doesn’t miss a step getting back into the groove of playing one of his more fun and underrated characters. Jackson is one of those actors that commands attention whenever he is on-screen akin to a planet’s gravitational pull worth of charisma, and Shaft affords him and his signature sass all the movie’s best quips. In lesser hands, lines like “It’s your duty to please that booty” (which is a variant of a similar line in the 2000 film) would get eye rolls and snickers from viewers. But with Jackson’s delivery, audiences laugh with and never at the movie.
3. That Family Reunion In the Third Act
For two-thirds of the film’s running time, fans have to endure a limp plot that eventually builds into something excitable and worth the price of admission.
The central murder mystery family Shaft finds themselves investigating is slightly less harrowing that one’s frantic search for their missing car keys. The by-the-numbers investigation serves primarily as a vehicle for JJ and his dad to bicker and banter before their estranged relationship reaches its predictable, “opposites attract” conclusion; Dad’s old-school street justice ways ultimately reconciles with his son’s more modern, anti-punching/shooting approach to law enforcement. All of this climaxes with a high-rise shootout that pairs three generations of Shafts (Richard Roundtree all but steals the show here) in an entertaining, Beverly Hills Cop-esque fashion that flirts with but never fully crosses over into the preposterous that sometimes weighs down other R-rated action comedies.
While Shaft trudges along like a movie comprised mostly of missed opportunities mixed with down-the-middle plotting, it makes up for its shortcomings with its always-engaging ensemble led by one of Hollywood’s most enduring screen presences. It’s too bad the filmmakers sullied much of Shaft‘s potential, because this cast and their dynamic deserve a sequel or two.
Shaft is now playing in theaters everywhere.