Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Director X
Stars: Trevor Jackson, Kaalan Walker, Esai Morales, Michael Kenneth Williams, Lex Scott Davis, Andrea London, Jason Mitchell, Jennifer Morrison, Brian F Durkin, Big Bank Black, Antwan Big Boi Patton.
This is a largely unnecessary remake of the 1972 Blaxploitation crime drama from director Gordon Parks jr, the son of legendary Blaxploitation filmmaker Gordon Parks, who gave us classic films like Shaft, etc. The original was a ground-breaking achievement as it one of the first films entirely financed and starring and shot by African Americans. It starred Ron O’Neal as Youngblood Priest, a drug dealer who wanted to make one last big score and leave this world behind. Films like Superfly were regarded as “black empowerment films” at the time.
While the script from Alex Tei (Watchmen, etc) remains reasonably faithful to the original, this 2018 retake relocates the action from the mean streets of Harlem to the glittery streets of Atlanta. This slick remake is misogynistic enough, but also lacks the brutality of the original, which was very much a product of its era and it lacks that edgy quality of many of the 90s cycle of black crime films like New Jack City, etc. This take on Superfly is more a product of the rap era and all that implies with regards to its attitudes towards violence, the police and women.
Here Trevor Jackson (from tv series Grownish, etc) brings plenty of charisma to his role as Priest, a young drug dealer who has essentially managed to remain under the radar while chasing the American Dream of wealth, and the outward trappings of success – fast cars, beautiful women, a luxurious house. He wants to get out of the business and sets up one last lucrative deal. He allies himself with a Mexican cartel boss (played by Esai Morales) while betraying his former mentor Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams). There is a rival drug gang called “the Snow Patrol” who dress entirely in white, drive white cars and even shoot white guns. They have no beef with Priest, until an ambitious young lieutenant named Juju (young rapper Kaalan Walker) sets out to make his mark in the organisation by bringing down Priest. Throw in a couple of corrupt cops (Jennifer Morrison and Brian F Durkin) who force Priest into a reluctant partnership and getting out of the business intact may not be so easy.
Superfly has been directed in slick fashion by hot video director who goes by the anonymous moniker of Director X (real name Julien Lutz), who has worked on music videos for the likes of Rihanna, Usher, etc. The film certainly has a
slick glossy visual surface, and it has nicely shot by Amir Mokri (Transformers Aged Of Extinction, etc), but the whole thing comes across like a two-hour rap music video. Attention has been paid to the costumes and the interior design, giving the whole thing a superficial veneer. There are a couple of moments of graphic violence, a car chase, and even a gratuitous soft core porn sequence, but very little of this is memorable. The language is at times the language of the streets and is a little hard to understand, especially when delivered at pace.
The characters are rather one dimensional and superficial. Lex Scott Davis and Andrea Londo provide the requisite eye candy as Priest’s two women, while Jason Mitchell brings a volatile edge to his performance as Eddie, Priest’s right-hand man and enforcer.
Superfly has been produced by Joel Silver, better known for his action films like the Lethal Weapon series, etc, but this one lacks many of his signature touches.