Shaft 2019 ***

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Reports of franchise fatigue affecting the US box office miss one off-putting element; anyone who bought a ticket for Shaft, Isn’t It Romantic? Annihilation or many other titles must have felt sorely ripped-off when they found the film they just shelled out $20 bucks to see if freely available at home on HD. For major studios to cut their losses by selling the foreign rights to their films on Netlix can only create buyers remorse and disaffection with the cinema-going process in general. Of course, Tim Story’s rehash of elements from the past four Shaft films was always going to generate some unhappy customers; the late John Singleton’s 2000 version with Samuel l Jackson was awful, and unfortunately that’s the poisoned well that this 2019 incarnation draws most of it’s mojo from. Jessie T Usher is JJ Shaft, an FBI cyber-crime fighter who joins forces with his dad, and then eventually his grandfather (a spruce Richard Roundtree) to resolve the death of his friend. The gags are laboured, the action undistinguished, the music isn’t the original Shaft theme, and the locations are faked NYC. Roundtree is great, and the final shoot-out is worth the wait, but this version of Shaft feels like something of a con-job all round.

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The Shaft Trilogy 1971-73 ***

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Leaving aside John Singleton’s poorly imagined reboot, the three big-screen excursions of John Shaft are the Bonds of Blaxploitation cinema, plush, and brimming with attitude. Played by Richard Roundtree, John Shaft gets the girls, kills the baddies, wears the latest threads and does everything a man could want to do. Gordon Parks’ 1971 original features a no-nonsense script from French Connection writer Ernest Tidyman from his own novel. The street-life of NYC is captured with vibrancy, even if the kidnapping plot is slightly stale, but things get notably ramped up in Shaft’s Big Score (1972) with the private dick getting involved in a turf war that leads to an exhilarating dockland chase. Shaft in Africa (1973) take Shaft back to his homeland on the trail of a sex-ring; what’s notable about the series is that the plotlines position Shaft as a righter-of-wrongs in a way that’s rather PC for modern times; even if his clothes and treatment of women are dated, Shaft would be a great a vengeful hero for today’s era , a quality Singleton singularly failed to capture. These films were frequently edited for television; it’s nice to see them in their raw glory on streaming services.