Reel Shorts | Superfly

by Tim Gordon

Almost five decades since Ron O’Neal created the iconic character, Priest, many have sought to imitate the style and swagger of the original film. Sadly, this latest incarnation dishonors the legacy of the original film with shrill, glossy imitation that is long on style but woefully short on substance.

When the original film was released in 1972, urban audiences were mesmerized by the film’s fashions, style and most importantly, Curtis Mayfield’s seductive soundtrack. Glamorizing the underbelly of pimps, pushers, and hustlers, Superfly was an instant cultural touchstone, along with Shaft, that served as foundation films for what would come to be known as the “blaxploitation era.”

To understand the current version of the film is to understand the genesis of the story of Priest (Trevor Jackson) who along with his partner, Eddie (Jason Mitchell) are moving major weight in the ATL. While they are successful, Priest longs for much more than the life but those closest to him see him for what he is rather than what he can be. As he contemplates his next move, a jealous rival decides to sew the seeds of dissension bringing the conflict to his front door and slowly forcing his hand.

Looking for “one more score” to leave the life, Priest asks his mentor, Scatter (Michael K. Williams) to “turn on the faucet” for him, giving him the opportunity to score some much-needed cash for his exit strategy. When he is refused, Priest goes straight to Scatter’s supplier, Mexican kingpin, Adalberto Gonzalez (Esai Morales) who hedges his bet with future but further tightening the noose around Priest’s neck and lively hood.

While he is making power moves to secure his future, Eddie is sloppily making bad judgment calls that put their successful enterprise in jeopardy. Whether seeking unsolicited retribution or trusting the wrong people with the product, Eddie’s decisions put a strain on their relationship and bring the duo to war with a rival crew and their vindictive, yet suspicious leader, Q (Big Bank Black). With the walls closing on him, will Priest survive?

Written by Alex Tse (Sucker Free City, The Watchman) and directed by Director X (Julien Christian Lutz), this film plays like a long-form music video that is elaborate to look at but is emotionally empty. Even the film’s title represented an attitude that is not relevant in 2018. The life that director Gordon Parks, Jr. so proudly portrayed has been mercifully parity for the past four decades. During the period that the original was released, America was a very different place that featured fewer opportunities that exist today, making this story one out of its time.

Judging from the cast, many saw this film as a vehicle to be a part of something special and worthwhile trying to resurrect this classic. Unfortunately, this round peg in a square hole is a mishmash, shrill, cliche, gangster-by-the-number tale that dishonors the memory of the original and surely will not be a film that people will long for years from now. Jackson (grownish, Burning Sands) gives it his best effort but unfortunately for him, Straight Out of Compton’s Jason Mitchell and character actor extraordinaire, Michael K. Williams, they will have to live with this lemon on their filmographies.

When all is said and done, this film should as a cautionary tale that not every story needs to be updated for future generations . . . especially when films like 1994’s Sugar Hill and Savages mine similar territory and do it SO much better. My advice is that if you want to see Superfly, simply rent the original, I promise that you’ll enjoy that much more than this muddled mess masquerading as a film!

Grade: D

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