Thursday, August 2, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Superfly

Sigh... Once again I'm falling woefully behind on my movie reviews again here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld. Therefore in a desperate attempt to catch up, I'm posting a very short analysis of this filmI don't have much to say about this particular movie anyway, so there's no point in devoting 50,000 words to it. So sit back and enjoy this Micro Review

Superfly was written by Alex Tse and directed by... um, Director X.

Tse previously co-wrote Watchmen and that's about it. Director X, aka Little X, aka Julien Christian Lutz, is mostly known for helming dozens of music videos. Movie-wise, he previously directed such classics as Across The Line and Center Stage: On Pointe.

The film is a very faithful remake of 1972's Super Fly (note the space in the original title). Wait, did I say "faithful?" I meant identical
In fact it's so similar to the source material that I can't help but wonder why they bothered to remake it at all. 

Superfly (2018) reuses the exact same plot as the original film("good" drug dealer wants to get out of the game and retire), and even recycles all the same characters, right down to their names! In an astonishing burst of originality though, the remake moves the action from the mean streets of New York and relocates it to the mean streets of Atlanta. Brilliant!

The original Super Fly, along with Cotton Comes To Harlem, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Shaft, kicked off the "blaxploitation" craze of the early 1970s. These were violent, gritty films shot on location in New York City, featuring black antiheroes who were cool as ice as they stuck it to the Man.

Although blaxploitation movies were aimed at an urban demographic, they resonated with the general public as well, and audiences flocked to them in droves. Shaft, for example, grossed $13 million (which was a lot in 1971 dollars!) against its minute $500,000 budget.

This caused Hollywood to take notice, and in no time flat, studios everywhere were pumping out films featuring leading men of color. 

Critics were split on the films. Some called them empowering, as for the first time in film history, blacks were allowed to write, direct and act in their own productions. Others including the NAACP itself condemned them movies, saying they did nothing but glorify drug use and perpetuate negative stereotypes associated with blacks. Both sides made some pretty good points.

This is why it seems iffy at best to remake a blaxploitation movie here in 2018. It's a genre whose time has definitely come and gone.

The original Super Fly was notable for its highly influential soundtrack, which featured such funk classics as Pusherman, Freddie's Dead and or course the title track.

Sadly, I don't think anyone's gonna leave the theater humming any of the forgettable tunes from this remake. Honestly, was there even any music in it? It didn't even register in my brain.

So far the film's grossed a little over $20 million (domestically— no overseas distribution) against its $16 million budget. Due to marketing and other hidden costs, movies these days need to make around twice their production budget before they turn a profit. Unfortunately this means Superfly is a certified box office dud.


The Plot:
Youngblood Priest (played by Trevor Young) is an enterprising coke dealer with a heart of gold, who's been working the mean streets of Atlanta since he was eleven. His empire affords him the best of everything— fine clothing, fast cars and luxury living quarters, which he shares with his two beautiful girlfriends.

Unfortunately not everyone is happy with Priest's success. Like Juju, a member of the Snow Patrol (a rival gang whose members dress in white ski gear year round). The young hothead resents Priest so much that he takes a potshot at him in front of a nightclub. This close call causes Priest to reevaluate his life, and he decides to get out of the drug business and retire to Montenegro— with his girlfriends, of course.

In order to do that though, Priest needs to make— you guessed it— one last big score. Oy.

To that end, Priest goes behind the back of his mentor and supplier Scatter (played by Michael Kenneth Williams), and teams up with Morales, the head of a deadly Mexican drug cartel. 

Priest wheels and deals and becomes the biggest supplier in all of Atlanta, which angers the Snow Patrol, along with pretty much every other thug in the city. There're lots of shootouts, fight scenes and car chases along the way, which I won't bore you with here.

Priest prides himself on his clean criminal record, having always flown under the radar of the police. That changes when Fat Freddy, a member of Priest's posse, is caught speeding by a racist white cop. As a result of this, the cop and his partner begin blackmailing Priest— they'll let him continue running his empire, provided they get a healthy cut of the profits.

Things go from bad to worse for Priest when the Snow Patrol attacks his luxury apartment, killing one of his girlfriends in the process. His former friend Scatter begins gunning for him as well, as does Morales.

Just when it looks like things can't get any worse for Priest, we realize he's been planning an intricate endgame all along. He wipes out the Snow Patrol, frames the crooked cops for possession and kills Scatter. And in a final twist, he informs Morales' mother that her son is a snitch, forcing her to brutally kill her offspring.

With everyone else in the cast dead or out of the picture, Priest gets his big score and is set for life.

The movie ends with Priest and his remaining girlfriend relaxing on a speedboat in Montenegro, where they live happily ever after. Um... hooray for the violent, murderous drug dealer, I guess?

• I don't have much to say about this film, so this'll be mercifully quick.

Oh dear. Regular readers of Bob Canada's BlogWorld all know what to do whenever this logo pops up on the screen. You immediately gather your belongings and head for the nearest exit at a brisk walk! 

• It seems really bizarre to me to shoot a film (twice!) that features a murderous drug dealer as the ostensible hero. And make no mistake, we're definitely meant to root for Priest here and hope he succeeds, despite the fact that he's a vicious killer. In fact he's even rewarded for his actions at the end of the film!

Heck, the movie actually glamorizes the gangster lifestyle, as Priest and his pals are all fabulously wealthy, enjoy the best of everything and are apparently immune from the law. It makes drug dealing look like a viable career option!

Of course we never see any of the fallout from Priest's business, such as strung out addicts, dead junkies or crack whores. That wouldn't make his actions look very heroic now, would it?

This romanticizing of a criminal made sense in the 1970s, as that was the era of gritty, subversive movies that featured violent anti-heroes as the protagonists. It's a little more iffy in today's easily offended world. I'm honestly surprised no one's complained about Superfly (2018) yet.

• For a film from a director of music videos, Superfly isn't very... er, music video-y. I was expecting something with a bit more style, but the whole film's shot very simply and matter-of-factly. It's not an ugly film by any means (like the original was), but it doesn't have any kind of signature look to it.

• Priest is played by Trevor Jackson, who's a prolific young singer, songwriter, dancer and actor. I'm sure he's quite talented, but he was completely wrong for the role of Priest.
The part calls for someone with charisma and screen presence, and unfortunately Jackson has neither. About the only thing he has going for him here is his impressive, antigravity hairdo.

• Man, that Priest is somethin' else! In addition to being the coolest, hippest, best dressed drug dealer in town, he also has the ability to dodge bullets at near point blank range in slow motion yet! Amazing!

• Apparently Superfly takes place in a universe in which there are few if any police, as Priest and his crew are free to do pretty much anything they want— including shooting multiple people on a city street in broad daylight
 without fear of incarceration.

There are a couple of corrupt officers who show up in the third act, but they end up just blackmailing Priest, not arresting him or any of the rival gangs.

This is pretty much the case in ALL action movies though, so I can't fault the film too much for following the rules of its own genre.

•  I was shocked to see actual, honest-to-goodness naked boobs in a mainstream studio film like Superfly. For some reason female nudity is a rarity in movies these days.

While we're on the subject of nudity, Superfly contains what may be the dullest threeway sex scene ever. Early in the film Priest and his two gal pals decide to take a shower together, and all pile into the crowded stall. What follows is the blandest, lamest and most boring threesome in film history. How the hell can you screw up a threeway?

Superfly makes an attempt at relevance by injecting some unfortunate real-world story elements into its script. At one point Fat Freddy, a member of Priest's posse, is pulled over by a corrupt white cop. When the cop finds cocaine in the car, he pretends Freddy's got a gun (for the benefit of his dash cam) and shoots him dead where he sits.

It's a shocking and brutal scene, mainly because it comes completely out of nowhere. Up to this point the film was filled with over the top, action movie violence. Then suddenly it switches gears and gives us a chillingly realistic scene that could have been spliced in from the evening news. The tonal shift is enough to give the audience whiplash.

Also, the sight of a white cop killing an unarmed black man likely hit a little too close to home for some audience members. I get that the script wanted us to hate the racist cop, but there were better ways to go about it. The scene was unsettling and uncomfortable for audiences of any color, and didn't belong in a silly genre film like this.

• One of the corrupt cops who blackmails Priest is Detective Mason. All through the film I thought she was played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Imagine my surprise when the credits rolled, and I saw she was actually played by Jennifer Morrison, whoever that is. Seriously, they look almost identical. I guess they call Morrison when they can't get Jason Leigh.

The original Super Fly was a cultural icon back in the day, but its time has long passed something this lukewarm remake doesn't seem to understand. Superfly (2018) isn't a terrible film, but it lacks visual style, features a dull as dishwater lead and brings nothing new to the table. It also features a misguided and awkward attempt at relevance, which will just leave audiences feeling ill at ease and uncomfortable. If you absolutely have to see this story, stick with the original and give this version a miss. I give it a C+.

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