The chaotic action movie “Shaft” isn’t a reboot, oddly enough, but a labored sequel to both the 2000 movie of the same name and the 1971 blaxploitation classic that started it all.
The prologue is set in Harlem 1989, as detective John Shaft (played by Samuel L. Jackson, as in the 2000 version) is talking to his lady, Maya (Regina Hall), just before thugs start shooting at them in Shaft’s purple Cadillac. Shaft is able to repel the attack, and learn it’s tied to the drug kingpin Gordito (Isaach de Bankolé). But for Maya, enough is enough, since their baby son John Jr. was in the back seat.
Traversing 30 years — and Shaft’s move into and out of the NYPD — via credit montage, the movie lands in the present, and introduces us to that baby, now 30-year-old J.J. (Jessie T. Usher), an MIT-graduated data analyst for the FBI’s New York office. While his bureau chief, Vietti (Titus Welliver), launches a terrorist investigation of an imam (Amato D’Apolito), J.J. has a more personal case to solve: His childhood friend Karim (Avan Jogia), a veteran who served in Afghanistan and was clean after years as an addict, suddenly ends up dead from what looks like an overdose.
J.J. tries venturing into Harlem alone, but soon realizes he needs street expertise. So he reluctantly reconnects with his father, who instantly sees a possible connection between Karim’s death and his old nemesis Gordito.
The pair-up between generations of Shaft men is a bumpy one. J.J. is appalled by his father’s rough-and-tumble tactics — “those weren’t just crimes, those were human rights violations,” J.J. says after his dad beats up a drug dealer — and his profane descriptors of all things womanly. Papa Shaft, on the other hand, belittles his son’s millennial lifestyle, such as a pad that resembles “an apartment display for Pier One Imports,” and J.J.’s dislike of firearms.
Director Tim Story and TV scribes Kenya Barris (the creator of “black-ish”) and Alex Barnow (“The Goldbergs”) deliver story that’s equal amounts shooting off at the mouth and shooting guns, and much of it nonsensical. The story winds its way past Karim’s military buddies (Matt Lauria, Aaron Dominguez, Robbie Jones) and a Latina supermarket tycoon (Luna Lauren Velez), and brings in Grandpa Shaft (played by the original, Richard Roundtree) for far less time than the ad campaign would lead audiences to believe.
It’s difficult to decide what to make of John Shaft’s retrograde, pre-woke persona. Yes, he’s unmistakably cool — being played by Jackson, he couldn’t be anything else. But there’s a heavy air of an old man hectoring those kids to pull their pants up and stop staring at screens all the time. “Shaft” never reconciles those two elements, and comes off like a cranky time capsule of a movie era that’s long gone away.
Opens Friday, June 14, in theaters everywhere. Rated R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity. Running time: 111 minutes.