Review: 'Shaft'

Even the hardest working actor in Hollywood, Samuel L. Jackson,
can't save this horrible mess
DIG IT: 'Shaft' is baaaad—really... it's a bad film.

It's supposed to be about a black private dick, not a shtick about his privates. This catastrophic reboot insists that we won't know NYC detective John Shaft is a bad M.F. unless he talks about his magnum 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 from the 1970s, starring the imposing Richard Roundtree, which was 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.

A sinister Harlem mosque may be responsible for the overdose of a friend of Shaft's estranged son, John Shaft Jr. (Jessie Usher). JJ, as he is known, 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.Usher demonstrates how bad Will Smith is—so bad that he can stink up movies that he's not even in, just by the moneymaking example of his bland, poreless acting.

Story's direction has the rhythms of bad TV, those shows that presume you're distracted—the plot beats explained as if part of a 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. The upside of Georgia's new abortion laws: The Hollywood boycott could mean an end to Atlanta's risible impersonations of NYC on screen. In between the family bonding and supposedly funny gay jokes are a few uninspired gunfights. First, some stolen John Woo, spent bullet shells flipping balletically in slow-mo against the ironically used music of the Shirelles. In the finale, a quote of the freeze-framed death of the Comedian in Zack Snyder's The Watchmen.

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.

Jackson, 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.

R; 111 Min.

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