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With: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Roundtree, Alexandra Shipp, Regina Hall, Matt Lauria, Titus Welliver, Method Man, Avan Jogia, Robbie Jones, Lauren Vélez
Written by: Kenya Barris, Alex Barnow
Directed by: Tim Story
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity
Running Time: 111
Date: 06/14/2019

Shaft (2019)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Getting the 'Shaft'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The banter between cool-cat father and nerdy, uptight son is somewhat funny, but lazy writing — all exposition and coincidence — and wrongheaded stereotyping quickly send this sequel down the shaft.

In Shaft, a flashback to 1989 reveals that John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) once had a wife, Maya (Regina Hall) and an infant son, and, in order to keep them safe from a dangerous drug lord, needed to remove himself from their lives. Years later, that son, J.J. (Jessie Usher), has grown up to become a data analyst for the FBI. When his best friend turns up dead, J.J. suspects foul play and contacts his father for help.

The trail leads right back to that same drug lord, Gordito (Isaach De Bankolé), but just when J.J. finds proof, the bad guys kidnap the woman he loves, Sasha (Alexandra Shipp). Before Shaft and son head into the final showdown, they decide to enlist a little help from the original (Richard Roundtree). Can three generations of Shafts finally put an end to the trouble?

This fifth film in the series — and the third to use the title Shaft (why couldn't the filmmakers have chosen a new one?) — starts off with an okay idea, that John Shaft's son would turn out to be a sensitive, computer-literate softie, rather than a superbad, street-smart tough guy. But the filmmakers eventually turn that idea into a dumb Ben Stiller-like comedy, with all the usual uptight-versus-laid-back clashing. Only Jackson's effortlessly charismatic line readings make some of these encounters vaguely amusing.

Ultimately, the filmmakers seem to care more about their creaky, tired, unfailingly predictable plot mechanics, from the early murder to the inevitable betrayal and kidnapping scenes — not to mention sluggish, sloppy action scenes — and they forget about what little characters they have. The Shafts become thin, cartoonish versions of what began as a gritty outsider anti-hero (in the original 1971 Shaft).

Perhaps most galling is the movie's assertion that men ought to be real men, i.e. tough, willing to fight and shoot guns, treating women as objects, and never apologizing. What finally happens in Shaft is that the characters never really seem affected at all by violence or death, or even love; thus, they never connect, and they never come alive.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release features powerful video and audio, with a Dolby Atmos mix and optional English subtitles. There's a quick behind-the-scenes featurette, and a longer, three-part documentary as well as a handful of deleted scenes, and a five-minute gag reel. It includes a bonus DVD, digital copy, and several trailers at startup.

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