John Singleton’s Shaft (2000) was a workable retooling of the 1970s blaxploitation movie for the turn of the millennium, with Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft, like-named nephew of the hero of earlier films and TV series (still played by Richard Roundtree), and a plot that took the new Shaft off the official police force and led to him setting up as a private eye … all the better to star in remakes of Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa. But the franchise didn’t catch fire, and the busy Jackson had other things to do. Nevertheless, eventually, all studios look to their backlists and wonder what they can do with old titles – especially if they have a few things (that tune, the cool threads, the tough ‘tude) remembered by focus groups to this day. So, here’s a sequel-come-reboot using the name for the third time, retconning Uncle Jay (Roundtree) as John Shaft’s previously-unacknowledged father, but saving him for the last act because we spend most of the film on a bicker-bonding maverick team like a father-son African-American remake of The Heat.
An attenuated prologue establishes that Shaft II left his son Shaft III with his mama (Regina Hall) in 1989 because all the bullet festivals were dangerous to the kid’s health and hardly conducive to family life … then we skip through the kid growing up until the modern day when JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher) is a data analyst for the FBI but a millennial wuss who drinks coconut water and shops at Gap. His best friend ODs in suspect circumstances, and JJ is forced to call in his estranged PI Dad to help with the ass-whuppin and sleuthin’, uncovering a pretty basic conspiracy that happens to lead to Shaft II’s druglord arch-nemesis (Isaach De Bankolé). Director Tim Story, of the Fantastic Four and Ride Along films, keeps it lightweight, with John Woo shoot-outs in crowded restaurants where only bad people get shot, a series of put-downs of wussified modern life from Jackson that turns him into a kind of Gene Hunt figure, but always seems to involve popping off at easy targets. It has a few ideas – JJ turns out to be skilled at the Brazilian dance-based martial art capoeira – but mostly tips in scenes that have been done dozens of times before.
Alexandra Shipp is attractive and sparky as the chaste love interest, and there are standard gigs for Titus Welliver (uptight white boss, aka ‘the Man’), Luna Lauren Velez (gang boss) and Matt Laura (satisfyingly white villain). The music’s lively, with a weird use of ‘Be My Baby’ as the heroine is enraptured by JJ suddenly getting proficient with a gun, and an inevitable not-as-good-as-Isaac Hayes remix of the Shaft theme. Similarly, it just uses Roundtree as an old comedy hard-nut rather than acknowledging his stature in the role and the genre. It must have been made between studio regimes or greenlit before anyone had an idea what it was supposed to be, since it’s gone the 2020 version of straight to video and become a Netflix premiere.