New time, same story
Superfly remake shows how much — and how little — things have changed
When the original Super Fly opened in 1972, its strong storyline and mostly black cast and crew helped kick-start the Blaxploitation genre.
Since then, much has changed — not enough, to be sure, and some of it the wrong way, but change nonetheless. And so the modern remake (all one word this time), appearing after such hit films as Moonlight, Straight Outta Compton, Girls Trip, Get Out and Black Panther, feels like a bit of a throwback. It’s not exactly a nostalgia trip — maybe an escapist excursion. Certainly there’s a lot more violence this time out, and a much less ambiguous ending.
Trevor Jackson steps up to the role of Youngblood Priest, dealing cocaine on the rough streets of Atlanta. (It was Harlem in the original.) Soft-spoken and slim, he ambles into a club in the opening scene, where I briefly mistake him for a minor character, all style and no substance.
But Jackson knows exactly what he’s doing as Priest, a man you underestimate at your peril. He is tough but fair, neither prone to violence nor a pacifist. “All the power in the world never stopped a bullet,” he says in one of the more resonant lines in Alex Tse’s screenplay. “And no car can outrun fate.”
Priest wants out of the game, which in this case means first going deeper into it. He figures if he can amp up his dealing enough, he can earn enough money in a short while to walk away and not look back. Helping him out are his chief lieutenant Eddie (Jason Mitchell) and girlfriends Georgia (Lex Scott Davis) and Cynthia (Andrea Londo).
But there are far more obstacles, starting with Juju (Kaalan Walker), hottest-blooded member of rival gang Snow Patrol, who dress, drive and deal in nothing but white stuff.
Superfly is the newest from Toronto-born Director X, who has mostly worked in TV and music videos but also made the 2015 Canadian drama Across the Line, set in Nova Scotia. He’s got a much bigger canvas (and budget) to work with here, which he employs with mixed results.
He’s actually at his best in the quieter scenes, which showcase Jackson’s fantastic but understated performance. The flashier moments are less effective — characters have a habit of literally throwing money around at parties (do the cleaners get to keep that?), and there’s a bizarre three-way in a shower that plays like pornography without even a pizza.
Of course, the notion of a coke dealer with a heart of gold may strike some viewers as a little too simplistic. (The original Super Fly similarly divided audiences, with defenders pointing out that as a black man in 1972 America, Priest had relatively few roads to success.) I was less troubled by such moral ambiguity than with the screenplay’s remarkably tidy ending. But the cast made the trip worthwhile. I’ll confess, I couldn’t take my eyes off Priest. firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/chrisknightfilm
1/2 (out of five)
What: Crime thriller directed by Director X.
Starring: Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Lex Scott Davis Classification: 18A
Where: Silver City (See Movieguide,
Lex Scott Davis and Trevor Jackson star in Superfly. Jackson’s understated performance as Youngblood Priest is compelling.