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‘Shaft’ gets updated for millenial generation

June 26, 2019
By Tony Rutherford , Graffiti

Isaac Hayes took home a Grammy and an Oscar for his hybrid jazzy score where "they are talking about Shaft.......we can dig it."

"Shaft's" millennial reinvention accomplishes a societal paradox --- bringing three generations together, mostly in a comedic vein.

John Shaft, Jr. (Jessie T. Usher) raised in upstate New York by a mom (Regina Hall) has been - unbeknownst to him - shielded from his dad's bullet-dodging lifestyle. He graduates from MIT as what one critic called a "full-blown nerd-o-sexual: a knapsack carrying, Gap-shirt-wearing, gender-sensitive hipster with a Lord of the Rings poster on the bare-brick wall of his loft."

An FBI data employee J.J. (Junior) has sworn off guns, respects authority, and treats women courteously and equally, specifically his doctor friend Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) who can't reconcile a computer key punching F.B.I. agent.

Colliding societal stereotypes set off verbal flairs and unavoidable "duck" babe scenes.

Hood venues still infected by needles and hoes shift between vet rehab efforts and addict flop houses. There's a pretense by some to cover illegal activities (terrorism on the list too) through misguided nonprofit organizations.

Shaft Junior falls into the investigative mode when his best friend dies from a 10-fold heroin O.D.

The kid quickly finds that verbal diplomacy fails deep among Harlem's underbelly of inner city gangsters.

At this stage director Tim ("Barbershop," "Think Like a Man," "Ride Along," "Fantastic Four") Story introduces J.J. to his dad (Samuel L. Jackson) and a firmly laced series a generational laughs begin. The director jabs at the war on hyper masculinity. Interestingly, J.J. educates Pop about how to nicely treat a woman; Shaft instills a few lessons in his son assisting him in escaping the "friend" zone.

This 2019 version of "Shaft" has a partial parody, partial reality essence of "21 Jump Street." "Shaft," which in 1971 helped establish the blaxploitation crime action genre, introduced a black hero figure confronting the Black Power movement, race, masculinity, and sexuality.

Story subtly stresses African American class disparity rather than white comparisons. Masculinity stays under attack and sexuality collides with the duck-your-head-and-avoid-bullets shoot-ups has a mocking "Be My Baby" in the background. Shaft once refers to his "not a gun guy" son as a "bonafide white boy" and utters derogatory sexual terms. J.J.'s rude intro to a hood nightclub hints at the Richard Roundtree 1970s sexual freedom with only brief partial nudity not an excessive one night stand move on temperment. Instead, Jackson's adjusting to fatherhood - about 25 years late.

Ultimately, Story does not reconcile any of the social issues, but the three Shaft chemistry stirs the most amusement.

By the way, I hated the brighter lighting that predominates and, yes, it seems Story wimped out visually on sexuality.

 
 

 

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