Dif­fer­ent time, same story

Re­made Su­per­Fly shows how much, and how lit­tle, has changed

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - ENTERTAINMENT - CHRIS KNIGHT

When the orig­i­nal Su­per Fly opened in 1972, its strong sto­ry­line and mostly black cast and crew helped kick­start the Blax­ploita­tion genre. (Shaft had been re­leased the pre­vi­ous year.)

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 mis­took him for a mi­nor char­ac­ter, all style and no sub­stance. (His tow­er­ing hairdo at first looks more ex­pres­sive that he is.)

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. There’s also a cor­rupt mayor played by rap­per/ac­tor Big Boi, and some cops so bent they can see around cor­ners.

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.

QUANTRELL D. COL­BERT/SONY PICTURES

Lex Scott Davis, left, and Trevor Jack­son in a scene from Su­per­Fly.

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