The story begins in 1989 with Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson; Avengers: End Game) wife Maya (Regina Hall; Little) besieged by gunfire with Lil' Shaft, then an infant, in the back seat. Shaft saves the day, but not his relationship with his girl and his son. Maya decides to leave Shaft to protect Junior (Jessie Usher; Survivor's Remorse) as Father chooses business over domestic life. Maya gives her son every (safe) opportunity to succeed, and young Shaft does just that, graduating from MIT and becoming a star data analyst for the FBI. Upon the suspicious overdose death of a troubled yet recently sober friend (Avan Jogia's Karin; Victorious), young Shaft sets out on an investigation that requires the legal and moral grey-area type of work best suited for someone comfortable on the edge of the law. Enter Dad after a thirty-year absence. Upon reaching out to Big Shaft (who has his own motivations in the investigation) son and father enter into an initially tense back and forth that culminates in a wildly entertaining an action-packed ride.
While this fifth installment in the Shaft franchise is well-written and well-cast, it is Jackson that carries the show with his larger-than-life presence and deadpan humor. Crossing busy streets without looking and seeking out tough guys who beat his son, danger is no obstacle to Shaft being Shaft. Usher provides a fantastic performance of as Shaft's offspring. The two couldn't be more different—Junior is trendy, socially awkward, unsure of himself, and not anything close to the lothario his father is. But the chip off the ol' block emerges after a few drinks in a club where, in a fight, Junior dominates his opponent with Brazilian dance-fighting, earning Dad's respect. The back-and-forth between the two is a highlight of the film.
And, of course, it wouldn't be Shaft without an appearance from Richard Roundtree as the original Shaft, who insists on helping the younger two in catching their guys simply because he's "bored." Having barely lost a step, the eldest Shaft holds his own in taking down some bad guys and delivering some hilarity himself. The three generations of Shaft pack quite a punch.
All told, Shaft triumphs because it delivers what the audience expects, but does so in innovative ways. The generation gap provides a perfect convoy to exhibit the set-in-his-ways Jackson to mock an Uber rider, the act of texting, and the necessity of owning a computer ("I've got a system."). The plot was a bit difficult to follow, only because the audience's laughter often dominated subsequent lines. But let's face it, we come to see Shaft to laugh our asses off, not to solve a whodunnit. Come for the comedy, stay for the action. Shaft is a film worth seeing.