SuperFly Remake Improves On Original

by Ben Martin

For the past decade or so, mainstream movie studios have flirted with bringing back exploitation and Blaxploitation films on a large scale. While the audience for these sub-genres has existed since the late 60s, such genre fare doesn’t get much theatrical attention outside of Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight) or at one point, Rob Zombie (The Lords of Salem). Various attempts to bring the exploitation and Blaxploitation flicks back as the box-office hits they once were, sadly, tend to fail.
Back in 2005, the grand subgenre experience, Grindhouse (2007)  flopped and was pulled from cinemas after a week. A couple years later Black Dynamite (2009) never received the kind of release it deserved, only to become a cult classic on home video. The latest examples of such attempts are as recent as this year’s Proud Mary and of course, the film in review, SuperFly. Unfortunately, though, both of these pictures put out by Sony/Columbia Pictures haven’t performed well financially.

In the 1970s,the original Super Fly (1972) was one of the prime examples of the Blaxploitation genre and understandably so. The movie does everything a genre piece of its nature should. Super Fly not only uses sex, drugs, and violence to entertain. All the while, it also manages to comment on some of the socio-political issues of the era. Of course, the film also presents a strong African-American cast and a cool leading man in Ron O’Neal (A Force of One). However, I find the movie to be decent and nothing. It suffers from molasses-like pacing and is just entertaining enough. I appreciate it more for its place in film history and the soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield more than for the film itself.

Thus, I wasn’t expecting much when I sat down to take-in the remake in question. The new SuperFly follows the original 1972 screenplay by Phillip Fenty closely; though the script has been given a 21st-century polish by Alex Tse (Watchmen). The film follows young and highly successful cocaine dealer, Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson). Despite only being in his late 20s, Priest has been in the drug game a long time and is ready to make a graceful exit from it. To do that, though, Priest must face down rival cocaine competitors, The Snow Patrol, as well as corrupt police. Furthermore, Priest must deal with objections from his mentor and business partner, Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams) and issues within his crew. And all of this must be achieved without getting in too deep with The Cartel.

If that synopsis rings familiar to you; it’s because you’ve heard it a million times. As mentioned earlier, it’s the plot of the OG Super Fly. Beyond that, similar narratives have unfolded dozens of times. Not only in the subgenre of Blaxploitation, but crime films in general. As a result, I find the movie in review’s plot to be its only real problem. Since it’s a genre tale as old as time, there’s not much new done here. In turn, because you know where the flick is going, the pace of it feels a bit too slow at times. Though, not nearly as much as the original picture on which it’s based.
Beyond the fact that this film plays with the same old deck of narrative cards, I have no issues with it. To the contrary, outside of that criticism, all I have for SuperFly is praise! Why? Because first and foremost, this movie is fun! For me, this remake is an excellent example of a modern Blaxploitation film. It uses the perfect mix of likable characters, violence, drugs, and sex to entertain. And this flick possesses as much entertainment value as it does kilos; which to say, a vast amount. As it should, the movie plays all of its elements for fun. Therefore, the audience can relax and have fun as well.

Like the best Blaxploitation films, this one also manages to comment on socio-political matters as well. Sadly, racism, dirty politicians, and police brutality and corruption are still issues in society today. Some of them now more so than ever. SuperFly manages to comment on all of these woes without getting bogged down by any of them. In my opinion, Tyler Perry (Acrimony), could take a lesson or two from this movie. Then again, the reason SuperFly is entertaining while also being mildly socio-political is that it’s well-made.

Seasoned rap and R&B music video director, Director X (Across the Line) is at the helm for SuperFly. Using the skills, he built over a twenty-year career; X propels this movie with a style and pace, which the original did not possess. More importantly, though while this flick does have a sort of music video style, it still feels like a movie. If the film were the other way around, it might’ve been nigh unwatchable. I mean, think about how un-entertaining it was to watch R. Kelly be Trapped in the Closet (2005-2012) for three hours.
In addition to looking good and being well-crafted, SuperFly is cast perfectly. Star Trevor Jackson (Grown-ish) gives a cool and fittingly titular performance. While his performance is heavily influenced by that of O’Neal’s original interpretation of the character, Jackson does make the role his own. As a result, the actor proves to be a perfectly capable leading man in this role. What’s even better though, is that the cast of characters around him are just as entertaining.

I particularly enjoyed the formidable female characters of Georgia (Lex Scott Davis) and Cynthia (Andrea Londo). Each actress plays one of Priest’s girlfriends; together, the three of them are in an open, loving, and fully-functional monogamous relationship. Despite what may sound like characters who are simply sex objects, these ladies play actual supporting characters. Moreover, while this movie does use a monogamous, bisexual relationship as part of its sex-appeal, it’s also respectful of such. I found such a depiction to be refreshing, as mainstream movies usually stay away from such content.

Now all my praise for SuperFly does not mean it’s high-art. Instead, it’s just fun entertainment for adults as the film earns its R-rating. In being just that, SuperFly is a perfect Blaxploitation genre piece. This flick is a pleasant diversion from reality, on which it still manages to provide some commentary. If you’re a fan of the subgenres referenced in this review, I urge you to see this film while it’s still in theaters! I assure you, you’ll be entertained. Oh and a closing note for any of my Georgia folks. SuperFly takes place in Atlanta and features one of the best shots of the landmark restaurant, The Varsity, ever committed to screen.


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