Before we discuss SuperFly, it’s probably fair that we put this particular remake of a beloved pop-cultural artifact in some sort of context. One could conceivably argue that 2018 represents an entirely different era than 1972, that this current time has no similarity, not one damned thing in common with the year Gordon Parks Jr.’s original Super Fly was released — other than, you know, the presence of a criminal in the White House, a shadowy long-term war that no one wants to talk about, and the seemingly indiscriminate murders of people by trigger-happy police. So we should forget about drawing those kinds of parallels, right?
Of course not. Those comparisons are irresistible, especially when looking at a summer-release update of a popular, violent urban crime story from the so-called “Blaxploitation” file. How could anyone imagine that music-vid creator Director X’s version is anything other than a belated attempt to cash in on someone else’s idea? That should be taken for granted.
Given that, the brand new 21st-century item is a little bit better than we expected it to be, with dialogue that could arguably be called smart and relatively complex characterization — again, considering its mid-summer popcorn-and-nachos profile. Those two pluses go a long way toward making this titillating revenge-mobile easier to sit through. We’ve set the bar low and SuperFly clears it with considerable style. It is not repulsively stupid. That’s something to build on.
Youngblood Priest (played by TV veteran Trevor Jackson), a smooth-talking, coke-dealing Atlanta pimp, prides himself on his intelligence. As his mentor and business partner Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams) observes, Priest prefers to play the long game. Priest’s coolness under fire is a definite advantage when dealing with the rival Snow Patrol mob, with their fluffy white parkas, and the Mexican cartel, as the three tribes shoot and pose their way through a turf tiff. The Snow Patrol’s skinny enforcer, Juju (Kaalan “KR” Walker), hates Priest with the power of a thousand cherry bombs. The cartel’s crafty jefe, Adalberto González (Esai Morales), meanwhile, seems relieved just to be in Juarez instead of El Paso.
The original Super Fly invented clichés; the new SuperFly merely perpetuates them. The Snow Patrol’s hectic nightclub, a circus of pole-dancers and snarling gunsels being showered by hundred-dollar bills, makes The Wolf of Wall Street look like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood — clearly the stuff of Jeff Sessions’ worst nightmares. Then there’s the cartel’s Disappearing Machine. Just slide a victim in one end of the sinister metal canister, shut the door, and out the other end comes about a pint of black liquid. Ewww! The gun fights and sex scenes achieve a high standard of standardness.
But every now and then what passes for an original idea emerges from screenwriter Alex Tse (Sucker Free City) and Director X. (How does Director X bill himself if he gets only a writing credit? Writer X? Just asking.) The car chase through an Atlanta public park is suitably thrilling, especially when it climaxes in a crash that topples a statue of a uniformed officer — a Confederate general? Talk about topical. And the crooked white cops (Jennifer Morrison, Brian F. Durkin) who pull the much-used “drop the weapon!” shoot-’em-dead routine on a Black gangster during a traffic stop? Truly lifted from the headlines.A gospel choral performance at a funeral is the movie’s second-best musical touch, after the needle-drop reprise of Curtis Mayfield’s gorgeous “I’m Your Pusher” from the 1972 pic. The film’s best villain is neither a Black gangsta or a bent po-po — it’s Adalberto’s cut-throat granny, Esmeralda González, played with a vengeance by well-traveled Texas-born actor Renée Victor. If there’s any justice in the world, Esmeralda should be Priest’s main adversary in the sequel.
While we’re on the subject, it should surprise no one that Priest vanquishes all his enemies. He is last seen floating with his main squeeze on a yacht in the Adriatic Sea, just offshore from Montenegro. If he plays his cards right, in the sequel he could tangle with the Serbian mafia. SuperFly Goes to the Balkans? Why not?