Grade: A-
Entire family: No (older teens only)
2019, 111 min., Color
Crime Comedy-Drama
Rated R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material, and brief nudity
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Trailer
Amazon link

Inexplicably, the 2019 version of Shaft earned only a 32 percent “rotten” rating at Rotten Tomatoes—meaning that just 32 out of 114 movie critics rated it “fresh.” But at that same site, 94 percent of 7,725 viewers gave it a high rating.

Well, this time I’m siding with the average viewer rather than the RT critics, whose consensus—that “this multi-generational Shaft struggles to keep its characters interesting or anything other than uncomfortably outdated”—only proves that they missed the whole point. The humor in this 2019 film comes from taking a ‘70s hero with ‘70s values and attitudes and plunking him down in the more PC-sensitive here and now, then watching the fun as the anachronistic Shaft manages to make us laugh and still be the coolest guy in the room.

As far as I’m concerned, the second time is the charm for Samuel L. Jackson, who played the iconic badass NYCPD detective like a black version of Dirty Harry in a 2000 remake that felt more outdated to me because it took itself too seriously. But in the 2019 version, Jackson and the whole cast seem to have fun revisiting characters from the original 1971 “Blaxploitation” film starring Richard Roundtree (who has a cameo as “Grandpa”). By having Jackson act like a 1970s lawless, anti-PC tough guy, the filmmakers manage to pay homage to the original character while also spoofing him. Perhaps the best example comes when Shaft sends his son wildly inappropriate birthday presents wrapped in brown butcher paper—gifts that include, as the boy grows up, condoms )”What’s in your wallet?”) and girlie magazines.

Shaft 2019 is unabashedly violent, anti-authority, racist, homophobic, and sexist, but those ‘70s tough-guy attitudes are juxtaposed against his PC-conscious grown-up estranged son’s. J.J. or “Junior” works for the FBI as a data analyst. He doesn’t like guns and is courteous but uncomfortable around women—the kind of sensitive guy you’d see on New Girl or another modern-day sitcom. But when J.J.’s best friend is killed by a drug overdose that a doctor friend says would have killed him before he could even take the needle out, the boy ignores orders and decides to investigate. Then, when he quickly learns he’s out of his element trying to find answers in Harlem, he enlists his daddy’s help.

Never mind that we’ve seen the rogue investigation of a friend’s death many times before, most memorably in Beverly Hills Cop, or that the pairing of a loose cannon with a by-the-book detective has been a staple of buddy cop films. It’s the father-son pairing of Jackson and Jessie T. Usher (The Boys) that really works here, and Jackson seems to have the most fun with a role since he played opposite John Travolta as Pulp Fiction hitmen.

J.J.’s mother and Shaft’s ex (Maya Babanikos) may not have many scenes, but she makes the most of them, as does Alexandra Shipp as Junior’s friend and secret love interest Sasha. Some may think that the film validates the old ‘70s values regarding males and females, but it struck my wife and me as mostly humorous, rather than an endorsement.

The original Shaft was directed by renowned photographer and photojournalist Gordon Parks, and in a subtle tribute to Parks the director of this film, Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four) and cinematographer Larry Blanford create some striking night scenes of the city to set a stylish tone in an opening sequence and announce that the look of the film is important. Like Shaft, it’s slick as can be—and it looks and sounds great on Blu-ray.

Language: The first “mother f**ker” comes early and the language (including the n-word) flows throughout the film—a main reason for the R rating—but the usage is mostly comic, not naturalistic

Sex: You’d think there’d be more, but aside from a scene where a woman answers the door with glitter all over her bare breasts and then a man shows up with glitter on his mouth, there’s not much here; the emphasis is on innuendo, on Shaft being a womanizer, not on him actually womanizing

Violence: Lots here, including fingers that get broken, hand-to-hand combat, shoot-‘em-ups, crashes, and—well, you do know this is a crime comedy-drama, right?

Adult situations: People are shown taking drugs and experiencing the effects, and there’s smoking and drinking as well

Takeaway: If “Grandpa” is up for it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the sequel to the 2019 Shaft turns out to be a three-generational romp

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