“it’s your duty to please that booty”
With the caveat that this is nothing at all like the 1971 original, if you’re in the mood for a Friday night comedy/action flick that harks back to the cop shows of the 1970s then you’ll likely enjoy this. It really does have this strange television-show feel, particularly towards its finale, so it’s possibly best not to think of it as a ‘movie’ but almost as a tv-pilot instead. Its funny, its slick, it’s got Isaac Hayes’ iconic Shaft theme playing on the soundtrack and Samuel L. Jackson chewing up the scenery dropping f-bombs everywhere. Beautiful women, rough streets, a cool car, shoot-outs, fights, a plot that feels pretty immaterial to the set-pieces and comic one-liners, sure, its decidedly lightweight, but it’s harmless fun. It’s even got original John Shaft, Richard Roundtree in it. What’s not to to love?
Well, there’s the rub. I am sure the pc-liberal brigade will have something to say about a Shaft that habitually treats women as sex objects, drinks too much, is a lousy dad, is homophobic, breaks the law at every opportunity, swears all the time, acts like a thug- Shaft is suddenly the poster boy for everything the pc-friendly modern world seems to despise, then has the affront to wrap it in a package oozing ‘cool’. Yeah, I’m certain many will find this film despicable and offensive. I’m sure some furious reviews are being written and posted right now. Its almost odd how divisive I’m sure this film will prove to be, considering its so light and conventional.
I was struck by how much it reminded me, of all things, of Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in how its plot featured our cool hero (Indy/Shaft), the appearance of a long-lost son (Mutt/ Shaft jr), and an ex-lover (Marion/Maya), the whole dysfunctional father/son dynamic getting healed by the end and an inevitable reunion for the ex-lovers. There’s nothing strange about this, I guess, considering it is also a franchise spanning decades/generations and the latest entry also serves as a ‘passing of the torch’ kind of thing. It that respect it’s cynical and manipulative, but I think Shaft succeeds where Crystal Skull failed, in that somehow there’s some fun, some laughs, fewer ‘what the f—?’ moments. Mind, I can imagine many fans of the original Shaft movie will consider this Shaft–lite as some kind of betrayal, as comparing this film to the the 1971 original is indeed like comparing a light romp like Spider Man: Homecoming to, say, The Dark Knight or that Logan movie.
If nothing else, it was great to see Luna Lauren Velez again, so great in Dexter so many years ago, here sadly reduced to pretty much a one-scene cameo as a baddie smouldering at both Shafts. Maybe the writers/producers missed a trick there. I’d have loved to have seen her given a better role, perhaps as the main villain, and certainly a woman giving Samuel L Jackson’s foul-mouthed Shaft a beating would be something even the pc-brigade could applaud.