Perhaps it’s appropriate that Superfly feels like a feature-length hip-hop music video, considering it’s made by the Canadian filmmaker known as Director X, who has considerable experience in that realm for such high-profile talents as Drake and Rihanna.
Then again, anonymity might be a virtue for those associated with this fiasco. It’s a remake of the vintage 1972 thriller Super Fly, which helped define the “blaxploitation” movement of the time while showcasing an iconic Curtis Mayfield soundtrack.
In this case, the material has been updated without the gritty visual texture or the provocative — and somewhat controversial — social commentary of its predecessor. The cool soundtrack, curated by rapper Future, is stuffed with more club bangers than civil-rights anthems.
The first film, although hardly a classic, was a genre pioneer that has proven influential in depicting life on the streets. By contrast, this version seems content to rehash misogynistic clichés about gangsters, hustlers, corrupt cops, and the mostly naked women who supposedly love them.
The film shifts the action from Manhattan to present-day Atlanta, where Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson) is a cocaine dealer who’s managed to build a life of luxury while steering clear of the authorities and an enemy gang known as Snow Patrol — because they like everything in white.
At any rate, Priest and his loyal partner (Jason Mitchell) want to escape the streets and settle down to enjoy their fortune with their female hangers-on. But first, of course, Priest is lured into one final score involving his supplier (Michael Kenneth Williams), some disgruntled partners, and a Mexican cartel.
Unlike the original, this film has sleeker cars, icier bling, bigger weaponry, and a gratuitous threesome in a shower. It only hints at social-justice issues such as racial profiling and socioeconomic strife, unless you count a hoodlum’s crashing car toppling a Confederate statue.
The screenplay by Alex Tse (Watchmen) lacks subtlety and surprise, and seems to mistake macho posturing for character development among its adversarial collection of crooks and scoundrels. At least Jackson, taking over the role originally popularized by Ron O’Neal, flashes some understated appeal beneath his flashy outfits, neck tattoos, and exquisitely manicured locks.
It’s a slick exercise in pandering to a target demographic, generating plenty of noise without anything to say. Whereas Super Fly provided a distinct sense of time and place, this contemporary version feels lost.