Director X’s remake of the 1972 Blaxploitation classic Superfly is a sweary, drug-filled and an all around obnoxious production which has high ambitions of translating a much-loved classic to a more contemporary setting, but which in reality only succeeds in reminding us how much more fun and playful the original production was.
Staring Trevor Jackson as the main protagonist, Superfly looks more like an extended music video than a bona fide feature film, which isn’t too much of a surprise considering that Canadian born Director X (birth name, Julien Christian Lutz ) cut his teeth as music director for some of the biggest names in Hip Hop, including Drake, Jay Z and Kanye West.
The action takes place in Atlanta where drug gangs have ruled over the city for decades. Enter Youngblood Priest (Jackson), a bequiffed and snappily dressed local Cocaine dealer, who prides himself on having never been to jail or on even being on the authorities’ radar. Feared by those he supplies to, and respected by rival drug gangs, including the unsavory leader of the rival gang Snow Patrol, Priest believes that his ability to do thing differently is what has allowed him to stay in the shadows for so long. That, and his powerful martial arts skills which have been passed to him by his drug boss and mentor Scatter (played by The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams), a man who knows more than a thing or two about respect and loyalty.
After a showdown with a young and arrogant member of Snow Patrol (not the band) in which an innocent bystander is hit by stray bullet, Priest does his best to stay away from trouble, but his hopes for peace are soon dashed by a foolish decision made by one of his associates, the aptly named Fat Freddie (Jacob Ming-Trent), a womanising coke fiend who doesn’t know the meaning of subtlety.
Whilst nobody can accuse both Director X and Screenwriter Alex Tse of not having a dense enough plot, what makes the film truly reprehensible, is that it relies heavily on tired old clichés which many African-American directors have spent decades trying to get away from. By presenting Priest as an equally duplicitous character in a subplots which sees him betray his old boss, the narrative fails to offer a single character the audience is likely to want to root for. Add to that a soundtrack which is only just saved by the addition of some old favourites, such as Curtis Mayfield’s Pusherman, and you’ll have a hugely bloated, obnoxious and thoroughly unpleasant film in which women are seen as commodities and never regarded as fully fledged protagonists.
While both Trevor Jackson and Michael Kenneth Williams should be commended for putting in some thoroughly decent performances, in the end Superfly simply lacks the humour and bonhomie of the original. And even if it eventually tries to redeem itself with a symbolic #BlackLivesMatter gesture with the addition of a fairly lengthy sequence in which a dirty cop gets his comeuppance, the film is simply just not up to scratch and soon you’ll find yourself wondering how much longer this is all going to go on for.