Shaft’s Big Burn

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Shaft is supposed to be about a black private dick, not a shtick about his privates. This catastrophicreboot insists that we won’t know NYC detective John Shaft is a bad m.f. unless he talks about his dick every six seconds. 

Barbershop excepted, director Tim Story has never made anything like a good movie. He’s studied the inside of Kevin Hart’s howling mouth in two Ride Along pictures (the third is due presently), and helmed two dismal Fantastic Four opuses (2005, 2007). Here he’s re-rebooting a super-detective franchise of the 1970s starring the imposing Richard Roundtree, successfully redone by the late John Singleton in 2000 with Samuel L. Jackson in the lead. Detective movies take care of themselves; Jackson tooling around listening to sweet soul music in a big Chrysler is almost a movie on its own. Instead, this is a lot of awkward bonding: the old detective getting his son to nut up and be macho.

The imam of a sinister Harlem mosque may be responsible for the OD of a friend of Shaft’s estranged son. Son JJ (Jessie Usher) is a plaid-wearing Urkel, an FBI data analyst, the kind of Ivy Leaguer who has a pair of crossed lacrosse sticks over his bed.

Story’s direction has the rhythms of bad TV, those shows that presume you’re distracted—the plot beats explained as if by PowerPoint presentation, underscoring clues you couldn’t miss if you were three-quarters drunk and playing around with the dog on the couch. The easily solved mystery unfolds in textureless cityscapes.  

Apart from JJ’s girlfriend Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) and mom (the great Regina Hall of Support the Girls) Shaft is a movie where the women are either strippers or club girls.

Samuel L. Jackson is entitled to every dollar he can get. The hardest working and best paid movie star alive withstands moments like his fatherly advice to JJ about how to deal with Sasha: “Tear that ass up.” He’ll survive. Whether this kind of banal sadism is the best use of his ever-dwindling time is another matter.

‘Shaft opens Friday, June 14, in wide release.

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