Whoa boy, Superfly is something, but not in a good way. It’s a reimagining of the 1972 Blaxploitation film that had the famous Curtis Mayfield soundtrack to it. The newest version comes to us from veteran music video director, Director X, who makes his feature length debut with this film. I was a little nervous about the film when after it began shooting this past January, Sony announced it was going to be released five months later. It’s worse then I feared. Devoid of any personality of its own, this is a misfire on all accounts, from the questionable acting to poorly staged scenes and everything in between. It also makes one of the worst cardinal sins of any film: it’s boring.
If you’ve seen the original film, the newest version hits on the same basic story, for the most part. Priest (Trevor Jackson) is a successful drug dealer in Atlanta who has enough to get by and flying low from capturing the attention of the authorities. After getting into an altercation with Juju (Kalann Rashard Walker) of the rival Snow Patrol gang, which leaves a bystander getting shot, Priest wants out of the game and wants to make one last big score with his pal Eddie (Jason Mitchell). Since Priest’s mentor Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams) won’t give him more coke, Priest goes directly to Scatter’s source and makes a deal with the Gonzalez family, a Mexican cartel. Supplied with more coke than they ever gave Scatter, Priest makes his way into trying to make fast cash and then exit the game for good, hoping he doesn’t get killed or captured along the way.
If there’s anything that I liked about the film, which isn’t much, it’s that Williams, Mitchell, and Big Boi (playing Mayor Atkins), are decent enough in the film. These three knew the type of film they were acting in. Whenever Mitchell is on screen as Eddie, it makes you wish that the filmmakers decided to have him play the lead role of Priest, because that version would have made things more interesting to watch. The soundtrack curated by Future, who also produced this update, got the job done, and it was nice to hear some of the classic Mayfield songs from the original film in this. Whenever those songs played, the film suddenly became slightly better. Finally, there were some lines in this that made me laugh, whether that was intentional or not.
Too bad the screenplay sucks the life out of the film. The screenplay, credited to Alex Tse (whose last credit was the under-appreciated and underrated 2009’s Watchmen adaptation), hits the same plot points and beats that you would typically see from a cliché gangster/drug dealer film about someone who’s trying to get one last score equipped with the same basic narration from the main character we hear from every film of this type. Even though this has more story than the original film, it’s all over the place to the point that you won’t care at all as the film tackles police corruption, drug cartels, and potential gang war during the course of the runtime. Superfly is the type of film whose bread crumb trail is comprised of biscuits! You know exactly what’s going to happen, so there’s no tension at all. At least the original film had style to it; this one lacks style or any type of personality. It’s just bland.
From the opening frame of the film, you can feel something’s off. Even though Director X is a music video veteran, you can tell this is a work from a first time feature length filmmaker. The few action scenes that are in this are poorly edited with no flow and a lot of quick cuts to the point of overkill. Even for a dialogue scene, Director X and his editor overcut to the point of distraction. The pacing that Superfly has is extremely slow. For a 103-minute film, this feels even longer than that. Acting wise, the actors ranges from completely amateur hour, like Walker’s Juju or Big Bank Black as Q, Snow Patrol’s leader, to over the top, like Jennifer Morrison’s Detective Mason. I also hate to say this, but the film was completely miscast. No disrespect to Jackson, since he’s good as Aaron in Grown-ish, but I couldn’t believe him as Priest since he looks way too young. There’s no character development for anyone and I didn’t care for any of the characters for me to sympathize with.
Overall, Superfly is easily one of the worst films I’ve seen in the theaters this year. Could a remake have worked in today’s age? I think it could have, but for this iteration, it showed that the filmmakers clearly didn’t care, or had no idea about how to properly adapt it for today. Coming out five months after you started shooting doesn’t help matters at all. With careful development and maybe a different filmmaking team on board, this had the potential to be an entertaining update. Alas, this is a generic, cliché film that follows formula with a capital F and is ultimately super-forgettable. You don’t need to pay money to see this. Truth be told, don’t even bother watching this update. Stick with the original version and whatever you imagined for a remake, it would be infinitely better than what you would have paid to see this. Skip this one.