Superfly review: Cartoonish, gaudy, silly blaxploitation remake

Dir Director X, 116 mins, starring: Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Lex Scott Davis, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jennifer Morrison, Kaalan Walker, Esai Morales, Brian Durkin

Superfly is a remake of an old blaxploitation classic from the 1970s. It is a cheerily amoral affair in which sex, money, violence and designer watches are to the fore. The early scenes are so full of bling and macho posturing that you half suspect the film must be intended as a spoof.

Sadly the director, who goes under the moniker “Director X”, isn’t Mel Brooks in disguise. He turns out to be in deadly earnest.

The film reaches its absolute nadir in the slow-motion-threesome-in-the-shower scene but there are plenty of other almost equally absurd moments. Our hero is Priest (Trevor Jackson), a remarkably laid back Atlanta drug dealer who, in spite of his ostentatious shopping habits and love of fast cars, has stayed under the radar as far as the dimwitted local police are concerned.

He is the type who likes to wrestle, Mixed Martial Arts style, with his business associates when discussing new deals. Apparently, he wants to quit the criminal life but he doesn’t give any indication of what he might do instead. Priest, who has come up from the streets, isn’t exactly admirable. If Mexican narcos offer him the chance to distribute their merchandise, he will betray his oldest mentor at the drop of a hat.

At least, he isn’t as reckless as trigger-happy lieutenant, Eddie, who starts a civil war with rival gang, the Snow Patrol (so-called because all its members dress in white). There is already bad blood between Juju, a young Snow Patrol member, and Priest after a shootout at a nightclub in which a passerby was almost killed in the crossfire.

Predictable mayhem follows. Priest is put through the wringer – shot at, almost thrown out of a plane, blackmailed by corrupt cops and chased around town. He even falls out with Eddie at one stage. Nothing that happens, though, comes close to putting his immaculately coiffed hair out of place.

The sexual politics here are on the prehistoric side. Women tend to strippers, pole dancers or gangsters – and sometimes they are all three at once. The Mexican kingpin’s sweet-natured mother turns out to be an ogre, ready to incinerate her own children if they betray her. Superfly suffers from the complete absence of any positive figures. Everybody is a villain here. Priest is just a bit sleeker and cleverer than his adversaries.

Alex Tse’s simple-minded screenplay borrows ideas from Brian De Palma’s Scarface as well as from blaxploitation pictures but doesn’t dig beneath the surface in its treatment of any of its themes or characters. The result is a film that is cartoonish, gaudy, silly, with a ridiculous “crime pays” storyline, but without any emotional traction whatsoever.

‘Superfly’ is in cinemas from 14 September

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