When you view life as a chessboard, everyone in your circle becomes a pawn in your end game. You can argue its Grade-A psychopathic behavior. But when your trade is the drug game, it’s a trait that’s essential to keeping you breathing. Enter Superfly, the slick and glossy remake of the 1972 blaxpoitation classic. Gone are the pimp suits and 70s slang in favor of a trendy soundtrack (courtesy of Future) and the Mecca of urban entertainment, Atlanta, serving as the landscape. But under all the glamour, is this a story worth retelling?
We begin by being introduced to Priest (Trevor Jackson), a young shot-caller who immediately shows us his presence by talking down a rowdy rapper and two goons that owe him money. The prevailing message, which is hinted at several times over the course of the film, is that Priest’s street success comes from his intellect and foresight over relying on brute strength. Although Jackson doesn’t have the charisma of the original Superfly (Ron O’Neal), he exudes a low-key confidence which shines through whenever he puts someone in check (most notably a unruly gambler at the crap table).
Priest’s motivation is to exit the game while he’s ahead, meaning he needs “one last score” to set him up for life. Problem is, Priest’s the only one in his circle who feels that way. Eddie, his second in command and played by Jason Mitchell, is a jovial hustler who doesn’t hesitate to use violence when the gang is threatened. And it’s that hair-trigger temper that caused him to sanction an ill-advised hit on a rival crew (Snow Patrol), igniting a street war and putting Priest on the run. Priest’s mentor and coke supplier, the secretive Scatter (Mike K. Williams), is also not interested in financing an exit strategy. That leaves Priest to play the dangerous game of trying to find a direct connect with the Mexican cartel.
The antagonists of Superfly are a plenty and give the plot a brisk pace. The aforementioned Snow Patrol, who you can see coming a mile away in their matching white outfits, are mostly just a nuisance. The bigger danger comes from the Mexican cartel, who don’t take kindly to Priest’s retirement idea. The most devious antagonists are Detective Morrison and Officer Turk, two white corrupt cops looking to extort Priest’s crew.
With all this going on, we spend little time with Priest himself. We only get a brief glimpse, via voiceovers, of what drove him to crime. Perhaps the most striking aspect of his lifestyle is being openly polygamous and having the ladies play prominent roles in his organization. Unfortunately, the dynamic between the three will likely mostly be remembered for the awkward shower sex scene.
His actions and motivations also lack consistency. In the opening, you get the impression we’re dealing with a master tactician who keeps his emotions in check. We see that later when he makes his case to the cartel to be their main supplier (even as they threaten to throw him out a plane). But later, he’s in near tears at the death of Scatter, as if he didn’t foresee the inevitable outcome of betraying his mentor and making him expendable to the cartel.
Action-wise, Director X does well with the shootout sequences. They come suddenly with visceral close-ups of the carnage. The problems come with the martial arts sequences – the slow-motion effects are more suited for super-hero films and pull you out of the film (especially when Priest dodges a point-blank gunshot matrix style early on).
Although this Superfly isn’t as unique a character as the hair might lead you to believe, the storyline and characters surrounding him are entertaining enough to hold your attention.