Samuel L. Jackson is back as John Shaft, who helps his son JJ (Jessie T. Usher) uncover the truth behind his best friend’s death.

Kenya Barris tries to ‘black-ish’-ify Samuel L. Jackson, and fails. Richard Roundtree and Jessie T. Usher also star. Critic’s rating: 3 stars out of 5.

Macho ’70s swagger collides with the “woke” millennial generation in the latest incarnation of “Shaft.”

The fifth installment in the film series, and the third simply titled “Shaft,” is directed by Tim Story (“Barbershop,” “Ride Along”), and Samuel L. Jackson – firing at will from his exquisite arsenal of f-bombs – reprises his role from “Shaft” 2010. (Though he’s been retroactively made the son, not the nephew, of the original “black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks” from 1971.)

But the new film (★★★ out of five; rated R; in theaters nationwide Friday) belongs to neither of these, nor to its next-generation Shaft, a nerdy FBI analyst played by fresh-faced Jessie Usher, but to co-writer Kenya Barris. As the creator of the hit sitcoms “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish,” he’s one of the most prominent voices in Hollywood exploring black experiences in a cosmopolitan millennial world, and his script (with Alex Barnow) mines similar generational tensions for even broader comic effect than his TV shows.

Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) and JJ (Jessie T. Usher) are squarely in the friend zone until the bullets begin flying in “Shaft.” (Photo: WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.)

Usher’s John “JJ” Shaft, with his slight build and awkward wallflower charm, looks like he would be a disappointment to his pops – that is, if Shaft II knew what his son looked like. The boy’s mom (Regina Hall) whisked him away as a baby to faraway California after they barely survived a hail of bullets directed at Daddy’s pristine muscle car.

JJ has been raised to be his father’s opposite. You know, polite to strangers. Respectful to women. But even though he’s stuck in the friend zone with Alexandra Shipp’s Sasha – the guy’s got a “Lord of the Rings” poster in his room at Mom’s house – he’s not a complete beta male. He’s certainly not afraid to mouth off to his boss at the FBI and start an illegal investigation into the death of their friend Karin (Avan Jogia), a war veteran and recovering junkie.

Problems with authority, check.


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