Updated: Feb 6, 2020
In 1972, at the height of popularity of the Blaxploitation genre, Gordon Parks, Jr. made Super Fly, a clever, entertaining and thoughtful take on the “man gets tired of criminal life and plans one big score to get out” plot. It had all of the Blaxploitation elements, yet transcends the genre just enough that it is still praised today. So it is no surprise someone decided to try to update it for 2018. The result is SuperFly, an okay, relatively faithful, remake that never makes itself feel necessary. It has very little to say that was not already said by the original.
The protagonist is Youngblood Priest, a successful drug dealer careful to fly under the radar of the police and stay out of the crosshairs of his rivals. After an incident at a nightclub, he decides he has had enough of this life and wants to start over. Through little fault of his own, his attempt at one last big score makes him a target of the police, a Mexican cartel and a local drug gang seeking to expand their business. This is all fine, but SuperFly is a lot of style mixed with a small amount of substance. It looks like a music video much of the time with slow motion shots of money raining, guns shooting and attractive people wearing flashy clothes. Unfortunately, the story offers nothing new, so the film’s 109 minute length (minus the end credits) tends to drag.
SuperFly’s style is courtesy of its director, whose professional name is Director X. X has predominantly worked in music videos, which explains the movie’s visuals and also its relative emptiness. There is no real creativity on display, just excess. He uses a lot of bold colors, some of which look cool, but they add absolutely nothing to the story or its barely there themes. Although Priest may be sick of this life, Director X certainly exploits it for all of its clichés.
However, he does have the benefit of a solid cast to make some of this worthwhile. Trevor Jackson, at only 21 years old, is kind of a weird choice for Youngblood Priest. He is pretty young to be a longtime expert on the game (Ron O’Neal was 35 when he played the role). Though I suppose that could be a commentary on how drug dealers take advantage of impressionable kids. Jackson is actually quite good, even if the character’s actions are not always believable. He brings a maturity to Priest that belies his years and is very fitting for the story.
The other noteworthy performance comes from Michael Kenneth Williams as Priest’s mentor, Scatter. Williams (best known as stick-up man Omar on the brilliant HBO series The Wire) is equal parts teacher and intimidating crime boss. While he does care about Priest, he cares more about his business. He has a couple of nice scenes with Jackson that work as a convincing peek into their relationship. This is helpful since the movie is otherwise far too busy with action and shots of Priest looking deep in thought to spend time on relationships.
SuperFly is a competently made, but ultimately pointless, remake. There is nothing particularly bad about it, except that it never really justifies its own existence. Besides its style and a couple of moments of political commentary, it does not do much to update the story for our times. Do yourself a favor and check out the original instead.
2¼ out of 5
Trevor Jackson as Youngblood Priest
Jason Mitchell as Eddie
Michael Kenneth Williams as Scatter
Kaalan Walker as Juju
Big Bank Black as Q
Jacob Ming-Trent as Fat Freddy
Lex Scott Davis as Georgia
Andrea Londo as Cynthia
Esai Morales as Adalberto Gonzalez
Brian Durkin as Officer Turk Franklin
Jennifer Morrison as Detective Mason
Directed by Director X
Screenplay by Alex Tse