Director X’s Superfly is a flashy, mostly entertaining remake of the Gordon Parks Jr. classic released in 1972 at the height of the blaxploitation era. X, best known for his short-form music videos, teamed up with San Francisco screenwriter Alex Tse, who wrote the criminally aborted and abandoned Showtime series, Sucker Free City (2004), to create an updated homage that includes most of the familiar plot elements in the original.
Both films feature handsome, charismatic antiheroes with high-maintenance coiffures who ooze sex appeal (Trevor Jackson here, Ron O’Neal in the original). They are both angling make one last score and get out of “the life.” Add to the mix a couple of psychopathically corrupt cops who are so bad—in the conventional, non-Urban Dictionary sense of the word—they make the drug-dealing gangs look downright upright. As in SF ‘72, the music score makes for powerful social commentary.
The similarities more or less end there. SF ’18 boasts hotter sex, cooler cars, fancier clothes and accessories, including a $600,000 wristwatch that doesn’t even do email. The music-video style cinematography and shimmering set design place this SuperFly far from Manhattan and Harlem underworld of Curtis Mayfield’s SF ’72 powerful soundtrack. While Priest ’72 was pretty good with his fists, Priest ’18 is a mixed-martial arts master—but too young to get a reference to Morris Day’s hair. In fact, the 21 year-old Jackson was 13 years younger than O’Neal (then 34) when the respective films were shot.
SuperFly opens in an upscale Atlanta strip club, where the phrase “Make it rain!” has nothing to do with meteorology or shaman precipitation rituals. In its own way, Director X’s depiction of opulent decadence mirrors the famous “Libiamo ne’lieti calici” scene in Franco Zeffirelli’s cinematic production of Guissepe Verdi’s La traviata (1982).
Splashy set designs and costuming sometimes override plotline logic, but X makes it work. Drug dealers usually try to keep a low profile, but not here. Rival gang members brand themselves as “The Snow Patrol.” They ostentatiously dress in all-white leather, satin and furs while driving white imported sports cars and high-end SUVs. In other words, they put in a lot of effort to announce loud and clear to the world, “We deal humongous quantities of cocaine!”
Esai Morales, as drug lord Adalberto Gonzalez, appears to have walked off the set of the Netflix series, Ozark, where he essentially plays the same character. Adalberto’s mom, Esmeralda (Renee Victor), is a hoot, exhibiting a grisly strain of tough love rivaling Griselda Blanco in the Cocaine Cowboys (2006) documentary. Rounding out the cast are Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire and Boardwalk Empire) as Priest’s mentor, and Kaalan Walker as Juju, a hot-headed Snow Patrol soldier. Big Boi looks right at home playing big-city Mayor Atkins, who lives by a highly flexible version of situational ethics.
SuperFly is currently playing at the Regal Santiam Stadium 11 in Salem.