Viewers’ reaction to “Shaft” (Warner Bros.), the fifth movie in a series dating back to 1971 and ultimately derived from the novel by Ernest Tidyman, will largely depend on how seriously they take its title character’s tainted personal and professional morality.
Undeniably violent and vulgar, director Tim Story’s film also winks at do-it-yourself justice and promiscuity. Those committed to Bible-based values may not be inclined to follow suit.
The odd-couple plot finds FBI computer analyst JJ (Jessie T. Usher), the estranged son of Harlem’s most famous and freewheeling private detective, turning to his dad — Samuel L. Jackson, reprising his role in the 2000 reboot of the franchise — for help with a potential murder case. JJ’s best friend, Karim (Avan Jogia), a reformed drug addict, has been found dead of an overdose amid suspicious circumstances.
As they collaborate on solving the crime, Shaft senior proceeds to teach straight-laced junior some thoroughly wrongheaded life lessons. They include the need to take a debased approach to his romance with Sasha (Alexandra Shipp), a pal from childhood.
While that relationship remains innocent, a shoot-up scene in which Sasha visibly thrills as JJ demonstrates that he was paying attention during marksmanship training sends the message that women are turned on by violent men. JJ’s modesty and reserve where sexuality is concerned, moreover, is not only mocked by his dad but made the pretext for the latter assuming the lad must be gay.
Although JJ resists the paternal pressure to treat women as playthings, he is ultimately impressed by the nonchalance with which daddy cuts a swath of mayhem through the neighborhood. And the wrap-up involves introducing JJ to pa’s role model in that respect, his granddad, the Nixon-era John Shaft (Richard Roundtree). Wise moviegoers will turn down the invitation to attend this trio’s destructive family reunion.
The film contains benignly viewed vigilantism, pervasive violence, including gunplay and torture, upper nudity, a frivolous treatment of human sexuality, an implied aberrant act, much sexual humor, several profanities, numerous milder oaths, and relentless rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.