By: Hawk Ripjaw (Two Beers) –
Superfly is dumb, but it is exactly the kind of calculated, dumb fun that you’re looking for in the heat of summer.
Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson) is a cocaine dealer who has spent his professional life under the radar and avoiding violence. He rules his Atlanta turf with his right hand man Eddie (Jason Mitchell), his lover Georgia (Lex Scott Davis), and his other lover Cynthia (Andrea Londo), who mostly seems to exist to count the money and engage in a shower threesome. He shares dominance of the region with a gang called Snow Patrol. The unsubtly-named gang advertises the color of their merchandise with white clothes, white cars, white homes, white furniture, and white guns. They stay out of each other’s way until hotheaded Snow Patrol lieutenant Juju (Kaalan Walker) picks a fight with Priest. Priest’s surprise martial arts cannot save an innocent bystander when Juju’s bullet misses its intended target.
Priest needs to get out. He needs his one last job before he and his lovers are out of the country and out of the game for good. But we know that the “one last job” never pans out well for anyone, right?
Priest’s mentor and supplier Scatter (Michael K. Williams) refuses Priest’s request for a surplus supply for Priest to sell off for retirement money, so Priest goes over Scatter’s head to the man’s supplier, Mexican drug cartel member Adalberto Gonzalez (Esai Morales). He’s really starting to boost that 401k, but the jealousy of his enforcer Fat Freddy (Jacob Ming-Trent), the resistance of Snow Patrol, and the presence of a pair of crooked cops (Jennifer Morrison and Brian F. Durkin) stand to end his career prematurely.
There is a great measure of gleefully excessive campiness in Director X’s update on the 1972 blaxploitation film, and it reflects in nearly every frame: hardly a quarter hour passes without a party or nightclub sequence, and none of them are without money flying through the air. The number of times a character makes it rain in the movie reaches comical levels, even if they fling it Frisbee style towards another pile of cash. Money is so absurdly disposable in the world of Superfly that one can be throwing it around in a crowd and not feel the waste. Priest’s glorious Morris Day-esque pompadour hairstyle is its own main character (with the Day parallel setting up one of the movie’s best jokes), and the costume design reaches an extravagance that is legitimately, unironically Oscar-worthy.
But there’s just so much more flavor to the absurdity beyond that: bouncers carry assault rifles. Guns elsewhere are comically large enough to resemble video game peripherals. Priest knows kung fu. A cop lyricizes to “Riding Dirty” as he searches a car. The rival gang is fucking called SNOW PATROL.
It’s made clear pretty early on, when the name “Snow Patrol” is revealed to be not a euphemism but an actual title for a gang, that Superfly isn’t taking itself very seriously. At that point, it becomes very difficult to dislike. It slides comfortably into that Rob Cohen vein of smugly excessive machismo and the fantastical excesses of illegal living, and Director X has made it clear that his intent is to create a fun, campy crime action flick. Go in with the right mindset, and Superfly is an absolute blast.
Apart from just the overt silliness, there are moments of genuine merit, as well: Trevor Jackson’s performance as Priest is surprisingly magnetic and the cast’s performances overall are quite good, with other standouts being Jason Mitchell as Eddie, Lex Scott Davis as Georgia, and the always-great Michael K. Williams as Scatter. And while the film will not reach the iconic heights of the original Super Fly’s soundtrack, music producer Future instills a unique flavor to this update that works on its own terms along with some nods to Curtis Mayfield’s audio work in the 1970s movie.
While Director X displays great skill in many of the visual elements of his film, his shortcomings in action direction show. In a couple of hand-to-hand fight sequences and a third-act car chase, the film’s frame rate is artificially sped up in post-production. When used incorrectly, as it is here, it looks like a low-resolution video played at a higher speed and significantly detracts from the immersion of the action. In the car chase especially, it simply appears that the cars were weaving through traffic at a safe, legal speed while the footage was sped up for the film’s release. It’s also shot a bit too close-up and tight, making a chase between two luxury supercars far less thrilling than it should have been.
Alex Tse’s script is probably the weakest link here, demanding moderate suspension of disbelief to accept how certain plot beats lead into each other. In particular, the way Juju escalates violence against Priest lacks impact or even reason. The scene immediately after finds Priest delivering a voiceover that sounds more like he was disappointed RedBox didn’t have his movie than an innocent civilian got gunned down in a fight he helped start. It’s certainly fun, but occasionally starts to drift away from knowingly, cleverly goofy into weird tone deafness.
In both a good and a bad way, Superfly also doesn’t deal too heavily in racial politics. A corrupt white cop is shown killing a black character and framing it as self-defense during a traffic stop and a fight sequence seems obviously setup to flip the tables on white-on-black police brutality. Superfly never lets itself get smothered by the politics, but the couple of instances in which the observation is made almost feels like an afterthought.
While Superfly isn’t altogether a great film, it is a great time. It’s big, it’s excessive, it’s dumb, and it is so high on its own supply it’s impossible not to get a contact high upon watching it. It’s a silly gangster action flick, and it succeeds at doing exactly that. It’s goofy, it’s cool, and it’s fun.
Superfly (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every line taken from the original film
Do a Shot: for every verbal reference made to Priest’s hair
Take a Drink: every time someone has a gun pulled on them
Take a Drink: whenever money rains
Do a Shot: for every Curtis Mayfield reference in the soundtrack