Blaxploitation is a genre that would cause so many hashtags if it were something common now. It’s one of the most unapologetic and thought provoking forms of cinema. Always featuring African American characters fighting against the man and always the center of their films, it’s easy to see why they would make anyone uncomfortable as they don’t shy away from racism, sex, and violence in a matter of fact way rarely seen in Hollywood productions.
John Shaft is a detective who made his first appearance on the big screen in 1971. Shaft solves crimes in often questionable scenarios when it comes to his dignity and stance in the black community. This led to back to back sequels in the seventies and eventually a soft reboot in 2000 starring Samuel L. Jackson. This played it more straight than the previous films and eventually led to another pseudo sequel/remake in 2019.
Also entitled SHAFT, we now have three generations of the Shaft men in one film with mixed results. Jackson’s Shaft has a son, JJ, with wife Maya, who eventually leaves him due to his dangerous lifestyle. JJ ironically grows up to be a cybersecurity expert for the FBI and is also very much against guns. He’s been raised in the society taught to respect women, use politically correct terminology, and gets yelled at for being a millennial. One of his childhood friends ends up dead in a suspicious drug overdose, leading him to want to delve into his own investigation as the death is shrugged off.
This eventually leads JJ to find his long absent dad, despite all their differences, in hopes of getting to the bottom of this. John (Samuel L. Jackson) agrees to partake, but this involves some dated jokes about toxic masculinity and homophobic remarks. These moments don’t necessarily make the movie an offensive film, but more insulting to the talented actors who have to spew dialogue that will make you cringe in your seat. While it’s understandable due to the different generations involved, that energy would be more effective in not only building up their relationships but also integrating that energy it into the fight sequences. The biggest insult is that the older characters come off as stupid and ignorant in comparison to the new cast.
Today’s society may have evolved since 1971, but it’s sad that the filmmakers decided to keep their original characters extremely dated. The comedic moments feel forced and seem to be aimed towards dad-son pairings in hopes of bringing them into the theater or in them buying a copy of the home video release. Luckily, there’s a great Dolby Atmos track that will help engross viewers into the bigger moments of SHAFT along with some special features. The most notable one is “A Complicated Man: The Shaft Legacy,” which covers the entire franchise. It’s not the most in depth piece of material, but it at least provides a look at the journey for those new to the characters. There’s also a short making of, some deleted scenes, and a gag reel that helps keep things light.
Hardcore SHAFT fans will want to pick this up, but for others, this might be a one time view from their local Redbox. SHAFT is now available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.