Better than the previous two films with its title combined, yet still just barely warranting recommendation, Shaft is an odd little romp that probably shouldn’t exist but makes for a mostly pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.
Sometime in the past two decades, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and fellow ABC sitcom writer Alex Barnow (The Goldbergs) realized John Singleton’s clunky Samuel L. Jackson-starring sequel to the overrated 1971 Gordon Parks original didn’t work and saw room for improvement.
Their take on the iconic bad mutha — shut yo’ mouth! — private investigator from Harlem is a welcome, almost complete overhaul in terms of style and tone, which under the direction of Tim Story (Barbershop) winds up more like a farcical 21 Jump Street-style film than a would-be badass detective story.
And so, the tale of FBI data analyst JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher, Independence Day: Resurgence) recruiting his estranged father John (Jackson, far more in his element this go-round) to solve the dubious death of the former’s best friend is a chemistry-rich and frequently hilarious buddy comedy that’s also surprisingly violent, sometimes to a fault.
Though the handful of shootouts are competently handled, especially when slow-mo effects are employed, yuks come first in this Shaft. Among the standout lines, Jackson’s frustrations at yet another Laurence Fishburne comparison and his inability to grasp how Uber works earn big laughs, as does JJ’s mom Maya (Regina Hall) calling out her ex-husband’s over-the-hill — but still remarkably successful — ladies’ man ways whenever possible.
Perhaps focusing too much on these and other zingers, the screenwriting team neglects to inject the plot with much creativity and even spells out multiple turning points with a lack of viewer respect that suggests the Detective Pikachu team was hired to do an uncredited polish.
Fortunately, the late addition of Richard Roundtree — reprising his turn as John Shaft Sr. and having a ball alongside his younger co-stars — helps smooth over these rough patches and turns the prospect of future missions with three generations of Shaft men into an acceptable proposition.
Grade: B-minus. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Warner Bros.)