This update of the 1972 films about the drug underworld has never met a cliché it didn’t love and embrace. Directed by veteran music video helmer Director X (Rihanna, Drake), SuperFly has transplanted its action from Harlem to Atlanta this time around, where successful kingpins live lives like those of the hip-hop superstars they listen to (not coincidentally, many of the supporting roles are played by rappers). Chief among them is Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson, a musician himself known by many from the series “Grown-ish”), who is on the verge of making enough money with his partner Eddie (Jason Mitchell) to finally step out of the game and retire somewhere isolated and tropical with his two ladies, Georgia (Lex Scott Davis) and Cynthia (Andrea Londo).
Although the screenplay is credited to Alex Tse, there really isn’t much of a story on display. There is a lot of partying at various clubs and mansions, fights break out among rival drug-dealing groups (so why they keep partying together, I’ll never understand), and eventually people get killed, which triggers something of a war among factions. There’s no denying that Jackson has a natural charisma and the camera loves him (particularly his typhoon-style hair) as he plays Priest as an even-tempered business man who refuses to let his emotions get the better of him, even when someone disrespects him. Violence is bad for business and attracts law enforcement, and Priest prides himself on being invisible while he litters the town with his product.
Almost as an afterthought, crooked cops (led by Jennifer Morrison) enter the picture and blackmail Priest for half his profits in exchange for being partners in his business and keeping the law off his back. In this day and age, I thought they might try to beef up the crooked police angle, especially after a scene in which an officer kills one of Priest’s associates with no provocation.
Providing some fun supporting performance are the great Michael Kenneth Williams as Priest’s mentor and sensei (oh, did I not mention that Priest is also a martial arts master?) and Esai Morales as the generic Latin American drug supplier to Atlanta. And don’t even get me started on the way women are treated, portrayed and talked about in this movie—they’re essentially window dressing and objects to be groped and ogled, and despite the fact that Priest treats his two women more or less as equals, Director X has no issues dragging out an extended showering sequence with all three of them, making sure we understand that the women are there to please Priest.
But SuperFly’s greatest sin is being predictable and uninspired. I can’t even fault it for glorifying the drug-dealing profession because anyone who sees this as anything other than a fantasy movie is delusional. In a device that seems right out of The Warriors, there’s an entire drug empire called Snow Patrol that only dresses in white, drives white cars, and shoots white guns. Visually, it’s fantastic, but it’s also very silly.
In addition, the dialogue is stilted and is essentially a collection of slogans from several decades worth of other movies about dealers. Director X knows how to make a film look impressive and beautifully composed, but he seems lost when it comes to working with actors. The ingredients for a much better film are all there on screen, but nothing quite hits the way it should. The film doesn’t have any shocking moments, meant to illustrate the more dangerous aspects of the life.
Instead, everything is meant to look appealing or illicit laughter. Even the Future-curated soundtrack is largely forgettable because the collection of songs plays as simply background music rather than adding substance to the proceedings the way Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack did in the original film (some of which are very much featured in the new film, and almost highlight how disposable the new songs are). SuperFly misses the mark, which is a shame because the world seems primed for a worthy remake of this sadly timeless story.
The film opens wide in Chicago on Wednesday.
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