Director X brings audiences Superfly, a drug trade action movie that keeps viewers plenty entertained with its tight script, stylish visuals, and aggressive action. It’s a remake of the original blaxploitation movie from 1972. That one, directed by Gordon Parks Jr., was steeped in the distinctive aesthetic of its time. The wardrobe was fashioned with shirts with oversized collar points, and the soundtrack grooved along with funky guitar twangs (and let’s not forget the zoom cinematography).
In the director’s modern re-envisioning, the movie’s aesthetic is updated but the soul of the original is retained. Writer Alex Tse largely stays true to the original story by keeping the main beats. The story follows Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson), a young black man who’s looking to exit the drug trade after enjoying a respectable level of success. He needs just one last big score to set himself up for life.
Just as in the original, Priest is portrayed as a man who’s easily a cut or more above the average joe. There’s his distinctive undercut pompadour that his mentor Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams) describes as a “Morris Day-lookin’” kind of hairstyle. On top of that, Priest has a distinctively styled wardrobe that expresses a hipster-edginess with a subdued undertone of hip-hop aggression. Add to that the fact that he’s a ladies’ man who manages to keep not just one but two women. Youngblood is positioned very clearly as a leading man.
What’s interesting is the way that Jackson plays Priest. Tse writes the character as intelligent and observant, the kind of drug dealer who has a forward-thinking strategic mind—certainly a rare breed in the drug trade. Jackson takes that and brings Priest to life on the screen as a quiet yet highly-effective hustler who knows how to play—and win—just about any game that life can throw at him.
The rest of the cast do a fine job too. Of note, Kalaan Walker plays the role of the surly instigator JuJu very well. Putting JuJu in his place is Q, played by Big Bank Black, who lends a strong emotional authenticity to the dog-eat-dog world of the drug trade. And Jennifer Morrison, playing Detective Mason, conveys the uneasy cavalier of a corrupt detective.
Aside from the acting in the remake, Tse improves the script and tells the story better this time around. Here, the screenplay shuttles viewers through the story in a more cohesive manner. What’s surprising is that the action in the movie—moments of heavy, booming gunfire—isn’t just there for show. It’s clear to viewers why people are shooting at each other or chasing each other in cars. These action sequences are also wisely used to demonstrate Priest’s resourcefulness and intelligence in a natural way. Finally, the soundtrack has been updated for modern audiences, though the original movie’s anthem—Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman”—makes a return as an homage.
Superfly is sure to appeal to anyone looking for an action-packed movie. The movie doesn’t require that its viewers be interested in the drug trade to entertain them. The hard-hitting action, memorable characters, well-written script, and an engaging plot make it a welcome addition to the multiplex.