Neither as satisfying as the remake of Shaft nor as objectionable as the remake of Death Wish, the second coming of Superfly wants to tap into that same ’70s grindhouse allure and put a similarly slick modern gloss on it. The results are pretty mixed.
For those too young to remember, the original Super Fly starred a natty, swaggering Ron O’Neal as a Harlem coke dealer trying to get out of the life before losing his. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr., the 1972 film was one of the era’s more compelling blaxploitation flicks, thanks to Curtis Mayfield’s funky-as-hell soundtrack — even if its glorification of pushers was problematic. And while the music has aged better than the rest of the movie, someone must have thought that there was enough nostalgic currency in the title and the character to give it another whirl.
This time around, the action has moved from Nixon-era New York City to Black Lives Matter-era Atlanta, where a smooth-as-silk coke dealer named Priest is surrounded on all sides by jealous rivalries and turf disputes. Played by Trevor Jackson (American Crime, Grown-ish), sporting a long black leather coat and a straightened Morris Day bouffant hairdo, and talking in a raspy purr reminiscent of Cuba Gooding Jr., Priest may not be a paragon of virtue (he’s a coke dealer, after all), but he’s several notches more moral than his competitors. Like so many gangster movies, the film revolves around our “hero” going after one last score before he can retire from the game.
Helmed by music video auteur Director X, the new Superfly fetishizes gun violence, greed, and girls as shimmying, snitching, half-naked playthings. It’s unlikely to ever appear in the same sentence as “Time’s Up movement” (apart from this one). It also wants to be to Atlanta what Brian De Palma’s Scarface was to Miami — a baroque, blinged-out underbelly travelogue decked out in Versace and violence. What gives the movie its few surprises, though, are a handful of scene-stealing supporting performances. Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell is electric as Priest’s loose-cannon right-hand man. Kaalan Walker bristles with hair-trigger menace as the ambitious lieutenant of the rival Snow Patrol gang. And Once Upon a Time’s Jennifer Morrison oozes venomous corruption as a dirty police detective trying to shake down Priest. The film’s strip-club-and-slo-mo aesthetic is yanked right out of any number of hip-hop videos — and also about as deep.
In one sure-to-be-talked-about scene (or at least soon-to-be-chuckled-over scene), Priest unwinds from the stress and danger of the streets with a three-way sex scene in the shower with his two girlfriends (Lex Scott Davis and Andrea Londo). It starts off like some quiet-storm D’Angelo softcore daydream, and then it just decides to go for it. The scene would surely earn Superfly its R rating if the bullet-riddled drive-bys didn’t already. And it really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. But it is an unintentional sort of litmus test. Because if that sort of thing doesn’t pique your interest, then it’s fair to say that this Superfly isn’t the remake for you. C+