The mere existence of a “Superfly” reboot will undoubtedly give rise to criticism on a couple of fronts.
Just about every male character in the predominantly African-American cast is a drug dealer, a gangster or a corrupt politician. Just about every female character is a girlfriend of a gangster or a stripper.
Stereotypes are reinforced throughout the story, just as stereotypes were reinforced in the original “Superfly” from 1972.
Also, even though “Superfly” is about a drug dealer trying to escape the life as he matches wits and sometimes gunfire with no fewer than three other drug-dealing factions, there’s never so much as a passing mention of how the product they’re peddling destroys thousands of lives and rips apart families and communities.
Of course, these same arguments can be made against films such as “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas” and “Scarface.” Even though these movies show the brutal and often deadly consequences of the life, yes, they also glorify that world.
These points taken, “Superfly” succeeds at it what it wants to be: an action-packed, sexy, violent, 21st century blaxploitation crime thriller with a stylish look, a downloadable soundtrack, a great-looking and talented cast, a few slick twists and even some genuinely funny moments.
This is the kind of film where you’re SUPPOSED to applaud when the bad guys get pumped full of lead or are blown to smithereens in a fiery car crash.
Trevor Jackson stars as Youngblood Priest, a handsome and charismatic and smart drug dealer on the rise in Atlanta. (Jackson is solid, but his performance is a bit low-key at times. Even when Priest flies into a rage, it’s a controlled rage, as if the doesn’t want to mess up his legendary hairdo or his beautiful clothes.)
Priest is something of a legend on the Atlanta scene. He’s widely respected, he’s cooler than cool, and he takes care of his people. He’s also in a loving and stable albeit, um, unorthodox relationship with TWO live-in girlfriends: the sophisticated and warm and lovely Georgia (Lex Scott Davis) and the feisty but equally loving Cynthia (Andrea Londo).
By keeping his business to a profitable but manageable level and eschewing violence, Priest has managed to stay off the radar — he’s never been arrested as an adult — but things to start to heat up after a Priest is involved in an altercation outside a nightclub that leads to a young woman being shot and nearly killed.
Priest knew this moment would come sooner or later. He knew there would come a time when the fragile truce with the gang known as “Snow Patrol” (they wear all white, their cars are white, even their guns are white) would explode, and the police would become aware of Priest’s empire, and he’d have to get out before he was arrested or killed. So he sets in motion a dangerous plan that will either result in him escaping the life forever — or meeting his maker.
The stellar supporting cast in “Superfly” includes Jason Mitchell as Eddie, who has been with Priest from the start but is beginning to question Priest’s motives and methods; the great Michael Kenneth Williams as Scatter, an old-school dealer who groomed Priest for “greatness”; Esai Morales as a drug kingpin who really should have read “Oedipus” at some point in his life; Big Boi as the mayor of Atlanta, who has enough skeletons in his closet to outfit a Halloween party, and Jennifer Morrison as a corrupt police detective with less honor and fewer scruples than the criminals she’s supposed to be catching.
Alex Tse’s script adheres to the basic outline of the original while sprinkling in some fresh touches. Director X (formerly known as Little X), known for directing high-end videos for Usher, Kanye, Drake, Jay Z et al that often played like mini-movies, nimbly moves the various chess pieces of the plot about while showing a distinctive flair for outlandish action sequences and blood-spattered shootouts. Future curated the soundtrack, which also features Lil Wayne, 21 Savage and Miguel, among others.
But the most memorable music-driven sequence in the film is the montage set to “Pusherman,” by Curtis Mayfield, which retains its chilling power some 45 years after we first heard it.
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Director X and written by Alex Tse. Rated R (for violence and language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, and drug content). Running time: 116 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.