The 70’s was a decade known for disco, the end of the Vietnam War, and the birth of Blaxploitation cinema. The are two films credited for launching this genre, both released in 1971. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, which was written, produced, directed, and starring Melvin Van Peebles. The other was the iconic Shaft starring Richard Roundtree. Melvin’s film was notable for the fact that he performed all his own stunts (including jumping off a bridge 9 times) and even contracted gonorrhea after a sex scene. Shaft would produce two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score! (1972), Shaft in Africa (1973), and Isaac Hayes won a Grammy and an Academy Award for the score and theme song respectively. In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Ironically, that same year the late John Singleton directed a new Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson starring as John Shaft II. Richard Roundtree makes a cameo as “Uncle” John Shaft and Isaac Hayes re-recorded the “Theme from Shaft” for the soundtrack. It opened at #1 on the weekend of its release and eventually went on to gross $107.2 million worldwide.
Fast forward exactly 19 years to the date and a new installment is in theaters. This time Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four, Think Like A Man, Ride Along) is in the director’s chair, and the script written by Kenya Barris (creator of Black-ish) and Alex Barnow.
Similar to the cast of the 2000 film, there’s a mix of veterans, rising stars, and of course a well known rapper. John “JJ” Shaft Jr. (Jessie Usher), who was raised by his mother Maya (Regina Hall), works as an FBI cybersecurity agent. One night he hangs out with his childhood friends Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) and Karin (Avan Jogia) who haven’t seen each other in a while. Karin abruptly leaves and JJ wakes the next morning to find out that Karin is dead. He suspects foul play and seeks help from his estranged father. The two of them team up and turn Harlem upside down to find out who is responsible for Karin’s death. In addition, Luna Vélez plays Bennie Rodriguez and Method Man plays Freddie P.
This would not be a Shaft movie without the man that started it all. Richard Roundtree only had a few seconds of screen time in the 2000 sequel, but this time he’s suiting up and back in the game.
Aside from being action-packed, this movie is funny as hell! These aren’t your slapstick, pc, safe-for-work jokes either. The comedy in this hits you in the gut and is a refreshing change of direction for the Shaft franchise. You can clearly see that the cast has great chemistry and had a blast making this. It’s entertaining for fans who grew up on the original, the 2000 sequel, and for the millennials. I guarantee you’re gonna DIG IT!