Director Tim Story's Shaft is now the third film with that title and it is the most confusing of the bunch. It is also the lightest. This Shaft grumbles about millennials and a lost form of masculinity, like an angry old man Austin Powers. The film strives to be funny and occasionally it is but too often the humor veers into regressive, cheap joke territory that would be more at place in a dirty sitcom.
It is surprising how far removed the film feels from the original film. That film used real life locations, the beat of the city, in ways that few films had at the time. You felt Richard Rountree's Shaft coming directly from the streets. Our main character here is John Shaft Jr. aka. JJ (Jessie Usher), a FBI data analyst who the film emasculates for being anti-gun and smart. When JJ's childhood friend Karin (Avan Jogia) turns up dead, JJ decides to enlist the help of his father, Shaft (Samual L. Jackson), to help him solve who murdered his friend. Shaft is now a private eye and reluctantly helps his son after years of being absent. Eventually they enlist Shaft Sr (Roundtree).
The odd couple pairing of father and son is largely based around Shaft's judgement of JJ's masculinity, or lack there of. The film has an underlying message that seems to argue that men have become too soft, too PC. It seems to want to go back to a time where men kicked ass and didn't have to ask permission for wanting some "pussy." Jackson delivers some lines with enough verve to get a laugh but the humor sours quickly. Its message on man-up millennials feels dated and add odds with the breezy tone of the film.
The original film and John Singleton's 2000 film were about fighting for the poor and disenfranchised against institutions that keep them down. This film makes fun of an organization that helps troubled vets because the name of it "sounds gay." The women in the film are treated as demanding, annoying, or sexual servants. Of all the things to carry over from the '70s Blaxploitation era, this was not the thing to hold onto.
Story is not a great action director either. The scenes play out with a lack of style. The soundtrack is great and adds some energy to these scenes but it isn't enough to make anything memorable. Overall, Shaft is a film very few asked for and doesn't come close to proving why it should exist.