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When thinking about the Shaft franchise of films, comedy isn’t something that really springs to mind in the forefront of possibilities. But with the legendary bad mother heading back to screens later this month, in the second reboot to carry the Shaft name, it’s readily apparent that the smooth action will be balanced by a comedic tone that the series will be new to.
It’s a prospect that could scare both fans of the original and anyone new trying to get into the Shaft series with the fresh start offered by Tim Story’s reboot. But those concerns were put to ease to a certain extent, based on what Samuel L. Jackson told CinemaBlend and a selected group of journalists, during a set visit that took place early last year. In particular, Jackson provided the following commentary on how he fought to keep the balance between the jokes and the action:
The previous Shaft was a little more serious, I guess, in terms of what was going on between me and Peoples (Jeffrey Wright’s villain). The level of danger in this changes, because they want it to be light, and there was a conversation about it. The first script was a ‘ha, ha, ha, ha, ha’ script, and I’m like ‘Wait a minute, you really can’t do that because Shaft means something to us, iconically, historically, and mythologically.’ So we can show the lighter side of who he is, in terms of what his attitude is, but the level of danger, of what’s going on in the script, has to be the same thing. So when it’s serious, it has to be very serious.
Shaft certainly isn’t the first reboot to take a storied franchise and inject it with a sense of humor that wasn’t previously there. But as we’ve seen in the past, that experiment doesn’t always work, and sometimes can be kind of embarrassing. So it’s noteworthy and important when someone like Samuel L. Jackson, who is a fixture of the franchise since his turn in the John Singelton-directed 2000 movie, raises concerns as to how to make a leap into more comedic waters believable.
Samuel L. Jackson’s efforts seem to have worked pretty well, as in addition to the remarks he provided above, all on hand were shown a sizzle reel for the film, put together from raw footage of what Shaft had filmed up to that point. And from that early footage, the mixture of swagger and laughter seemed pretty balanced.
In one moment, Shaft is mocking his own son for his more modern sensibilities, and in the next he’s breaking a man’s arm for information. It’s something so legit, it was included in the film’s trailer; and that particular well of humor was something that Jackson also spoke towards during the Shaft set visit.
Complimenting what Samuel L. Jackson said about honoring the character and franchise that John Shaft and his descendants are at the heart of, Jackson discussed how the story of Jessie T. Usher’s JJ learning to become a true Shaft plays into the humor of the film. Which, according to Samuel L. Jackson, involves the following:
And to take a kid that [his mother] molded into what he is now: an I.T. graduate who’s an FBI agent, that has no real street sense, he’s a suburban kid who has the name Shaft. And now he’s in an environment that he has to live up to in a specific way. Because of who Richard [Roundtree] was, because of who I am, because of what he needs to be. So when people say, ‘That’s a Shaft,’ they have to see a Shaft. So he’s learning to be a Shaft against everything he’s been taught him.
The generation gap in the Shaft family is something that’s been played well in the marketing campaign for the film, so at least in that respect, the comedy/action mix looks to really be working. Three generations of complicated men, with no one to understand them but each other and the women in their lives, is something that assuredly lends itself to a fair amount of humor.
And as we’ve seen in the reactions to the looks at Richard Roundtree, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jessie T. Usher in action, the fans are ready to see this family team up to solve crime on the streets of any city they choose to hit. If everything else can line up in the constellation of jokes and jabs, this just might be the sleeper summer hit that Warner Bros. is hoping for the film to be.