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'Shaft' offers action thrills amid a tone-deaf narrative

(L-R) JESSIE T. USHER as John "JJ" Shaft, SAMUEL L. JACKSON as John Shaft and RICHARD ROUNDTREE as John Shaft, Sr. in New Line Cinema's action comedy "SHAFT," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.{ }(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

2.5 out of 5 Stars
Tim Story
Writers: Kenta Barris, Alex Barnow, Ernest Tidyman (Characters)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Roundtree
Genre: Action Comedy
Rated: R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity

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SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Having grown up outside of his father’s influence, John Shaft Jr. is a cyber security expert working for the FBI. When his best friend is found dead under suspicious circumstances, he’s force turn to his father for help.

Review: In 2000 Samuel L. Jackson starred in a sequel to the original franchise as the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft, conveniently named John Shaft. This film, also called “Shaft,” features the next generation Shaft, JJ Shaft (“Independence Day: Resurgence” star Jessie T. Usher).

The trailers for the new film promised a narrative that includes all three generations of the Shaft character. I wasn’t expecting a meta experience that offered a serious meditation on the evolution of the characteristics of an African-American badass, but I thought there was plenty of room to explore the subject in a scenery-chewing way that didn’t betray the over-the-top nature of the blaxploitation genre.

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Roundtree’s John Shaft, Sr, doesn’t appear until the final act and while that makes for a blockbuster ending, it also exposes the many weaknesses of Kenta Barris and Alex Barnow’s script. The action aspects of the film work rather well, but the spaces between them are essentially diatribes against political correctness and millennials.

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It makes sense that John Shaft would feel like an outsider in the modern world. He’s misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and generally opposed to anything that doesn’t adhere to his opinion or move him one step closer to having sex with whatever woman who strays into his line of view. But the way the script reinforces those opinions is a little alarming. Initially JJ resists his father’s mentality, but his resolve erodes throughout the film. By the end of the movie he has abandoned who he was for a persona that is more like his father’s.

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I'm certainly no expert when it comes to blaxploitation films. It is entirely possible that I'm just not who "Shaft" was intended for. I always preferred the female led blaxploitation films like “Cleopatra Jones” and “Coffy” where the trademark misogyny of the genre felt more ironic. To that end, I would have preferred a film where Sasha Arias (Alexandra Shipp) or Maya Babanikos (Regina Hall) did the butt kicking.