Gordon Parks Jr.’s 1972 blaxploitation classic Super Fly is a gritty slice of urban ennui, capturing some of the scuzziest corners of New York with documentary-like verve. Curtis Mayfield’s plaintive funk jams lend a soulful groove to the film’s tale of a cocaine hustler’s attempt to get out of the drug game by pulling off the biggest deal of his life. Director X’s remake retains this basic narrative outline, but otherwise the two films could scarcely be more different. Shifting the action from the trash-strewn streets of ’70s New York to the strip clubs and casino bars of contemporary Atlanta, SuperFly is a slicked-up, tricked-out revamp that dispenses with any pretense of verisimilitude in favor of rap-video extravagance and mob-movie bloodshed.
Director X brings hyperbolic swagger to the story of Priest (Trevor Jackson), a stylish, impressively coifed coke dealer whose quest to go straight is stymied by crooked cops (Jennifer Morrison and Brian Durkin), a reckless employee (Jacob Ming-Trent), and a rival gang called Snow Patrol, whose all-white aesthetic extends from the clothes they wear to the caskets they use to bury their members. Priest wants nothing more than to run his high-class art gallery and have steamy shower sex with his two girlfriends (Lex Scott Davis and Andrea Londo), but first he has to move a massive amount of cocaine he purchased directly from the head of a Mexican cartel (Esai Morales).
Priest’s yearning to leave behind the hustling life for good ostensibly drives the plot, but the film never makes it feel like a particularly urgent concern. Director X is too busy showing off his characters’ flashy designer duds and luxury sports cars to spend much time letting us get to know them. Such depthless characterization isn’t inherently a problem for a film that’s cynical by design, concerned as it is with people’s addiction to wealth, but the thinness of the screenplay is highlighted by the inconsistency of the direction, which alternates between the glossily stylized and the aimlessly generic. Director X’s handling of action is especially erratic—a mix of car chases that pass by in confusing blurs, Scarface-style bloodbaths, and a bizarre slow-mo fight scene that looks like it was dropped in from The Matrix.
SuperFly only hits its stride when Director X channels his music-video work, pairing seductively hedonistic images with the sultry, stoned-out grooves of Future’s original songs. It’s no accident that the film’s most memorable scene is set inside a strip club, the natural home for the rapper’s signature brand of trap music. Director X fills the frame with writhing naked bodies and uses a heavy purple light to offset the practically glowing white parkas worn by Snow Patrol’s members, who rain bills down on the club’s dancers from their perch high up on a balcony. It’s a scene of shiny, synthetic sleaze, like something out of a Hype Williams video. Unfortunately, while such moments demonstrate Director X’s penchant for the alluringly lurid, they can’t overcome the fact that SuperFly, a mishmash of high-style theatrics and murky storytelling, never really figures out what it wants to say or how it wants to say it.