It’s easy (and accurate) to throw around words like “misogynistic,” “homophobic,” and “outdated” when it comes to describing “Shaft,” a needless update of the 1971 blaxploitation crime action film of the same name. It’s also easy in the politically correct climate of 2019 to be offended by every little thing, so much so that you can’t just go with the flow and enjoy something for what it is. There’s plenty in “Shaft” that will leave a bad taste in your mouth, and rightfully so, but it’s also a funny, enjoyable romp — if you don’t take it too seriously.
The legendary John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) still runs his private agency and continues to do his part to keep Harlem’s most criminal elements in check. His son, John Shaft Jr. (Jessie T. Usher), has made a name for himself in the FBI. He’s the polar opposite of his dad: a buttoned-up, MIT graduate who hates guns and treats women with respect. When Junior needs help to uncover the truth around a friend’s mysterious death he turns to this father, and the duo embark on an investigative journey through the city’s seedy underbelly.
The father and son buddy cop plot is more than enough to keep things moving along at a breezy pace (until the end, where it runs out of gas), the performances are solid, and the jokes are funny. I don’t know about you, but I could sit and watch Jackson do his thing for hours on end and never tire of it. Here he plays it up with what he does best: sitting around wide-eyed and spewing off expletive-filled one-liners. He has the perfect strut, swagger and f-you attitude that embodies his character, and he’s damn funny in the role.
It’s important to remember that Shaft is far from a role model. The character is a machismo womanizer and isn’t someone whom should be emulated. The character and movie feel outdated because they are, and the film is more about a clash of generations than it is glamorizing Shaft’s attitudes and behavior. Most of the more offensive material rolled right off my shoulders because it was played with a tinge of sarcasm, but a couple of gags about manliness and homosexuality and a moment where a love interest gets stars in her eyes because of a violent shootout proved concerning. None of the gay jokes are mean-spirited, but they still feel out of place here.
“Shaft” is the type of film that will entertain many, offend a few, and is guaranteed to make you laugh. It’s a movie that I enjoyed, yet hated myself the next morning for doing so.