Superfly joins an ever growing list of pointless remakes and ends up looking more like a lame rap video than anything resembling a film. As if that wasn't enough it’s accompanied by a soundtrack so poor even Curtis Mayfield could turn out a better selection of songs in his current state.
Director X (Julien Christian Lutz) has spent his career behind the camera making music videos for the likes of Rihanna, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and dozens of others before throwing together a few films for TV. His reworking of Gordon Parks Jr.’s blaxploitation classic is almost the perfect merging of those two forms: expensive looking without the glamour, and shallow enough to just about keep your attention for four minutes.
Atlanta’s reputation as the black Mecca of the south (as described by Ebony magazine) has continued to blossom over the past few decades, but surely the city deserves a better representative than this on film. Where’s Donald Glover when you need him? Probably doing the smart thing and avoiding all calls and emails to do with the project. Outkast's Big Boi briefly appears as mayor of the city, although André 3000 was just as smart as Glover with his non-appearance.
The 2018 version stays surprisingly loyal to the original story of Priest Youngblood (Trevor Jackson), a big time dope dealer looking for one last score that will let him get out of the game for good. He’s as slick as Ron O’Neal (the original Priest) and has a silky hairstyle to match. Within the first 20 minutes we’re already given three separate scenes showing us he’s always one step ahead of everyone else, just in case we didn’t get it the first time.
While Priest has got it together making his money and staying off the police radar, everyone around just can’t keep from messing up. The Snow Patrol (no, not those guys) are a rival gang dressed head-to-toe in white (as are their guns) who couldn’t make it more obvious to the police they are big time shotters. Young lieutenant Juju (Kaalan Walker), has it in for Priest but he’d be better served working on his acting ability first. There’s plenty of guns, money, drugs and sex (including a ludicrous threesome in a shower) and all the usual obvious plot turns you’d expect along the way.
Director X crashes from one tensionless action set-piece to the next, thinly connecting them with soap opera drama and TV-level performances from the cast. The few times Michael K. Williams appears as Priest’s mentor Scatter, he adds instant authenticity to his scenes, but those moments are few and far between. Cinematographer Amir Mokri’s photography is flat and lifeless in a film that would look far more at home on the small screen as a mini-series.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Superfly almost checks in at a whopping two hours, choking the hell out of an already meagre plot. The 1972 film may have been poorly made but at the very least it felt genuine. The updated version couldn’t be anything less and its attempts to cram in a reference to the shooting of Philando Castile and police violence against black people is hollow and exploitative. In some ways it feels like a throwback to 90s hip hop films like Belly, Juice and New Jack City - and while they have dated badly over the years they could at least claim to have been relevant at the time.