SuperFly, a modern-day remake of the 1972 blaxploitation classic — about a successful cocaine dealer of color who wants to get out of the business — is a straight crime drama, made by a music video director but not shot like a music video. It’s not kitschy, with no winking cameos by original cast members (though Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” does make an appearance on the soundtrack). It acknowledges the appeal of the sex, drugs, and hip-hop lifestyle but only glorifies the sex part. The drug gang whose members wear all-white outfits and party extravagantly at clubs like stereotypical gangsta rappers are depicted as careless buffoons, while the conscientious hero — whose straightened hair is magnificently coiffed like a white dude’s — acts with dignity and is never seen snorting his own product.
All of this is quite different from the original film, where our man got the nickname “Priest” because he wore a cross around his neck that doubled as a coke spoon, which he used constantly. The new Priest (Trevor Jackson) is so called because of his moral code. He and his employees eschew violence and don’t live flamboyantly. He thinks of himself as a job creator for hundreds of drug dealers, just living the American dream. He’s stayed off police radar by being cautious and avoiding beefs with Snow Patrol, the flashy operation that shares his territory (Atlanta now, moved from Harlem). When a bystander is shot by a Snow Patrolman outside a club, Priest gives her a stack of cash and tells her which hospital has the best trauma center. Earlier, he scolded one of his distributors for not being at home with his pregnant wife or even with his pregnant “side piece.”
But the cocaine industry is starting to get to Priest, and he wants out before he’s killed or forced to kill someone else. He asks his supplier, Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams), for one last extra-large score, which he’ll sell off and use the money to retire. When Scatter refuses, Priest goes to his supplier, Adalberto Gonzalez (Esai Morales), the less-favored son in a Mexican cartel family. Scatter will be mad when he finds out. Meanwhile, Priest’s partner, Eddie (Jason Mitchell), and employee Fat Freddy (Jacob Ming-Trent) have screwed things up with Snow Patrol, drawing the attention of police and threatening to destroy Priest’s business before he can close up shop himself.
Trevor Jackson (from TV’s Black-ish, Eureka, and American Crime) gives a charismatic performance as the introspective Priest, fascinating to watch as a levelheaded businessman in an industry of hotheads. He blurs the lines between “good guys” and “bad guys,” which Canadian filmmaker Director X (né Julien Lutz) is clearly interested in examining. Alex Tse’s screenplay is sometimes too serious, with Priest narrating ponderous platitudes (“All the power in the world can’t stop a bullet, and no car can outrun fate”), and there’s fat to be trimmed from the corners, like Priest’s relationship with two women, which is good for a gratuitous sex scene but never goes anywhere otherwise. But it’s all a vast improvement on the original film’s campy, amateurish roots, and it could make Trevor Jackson a star.
(Note: The 1972 film was Super Fly, two words. The remake is one word, stylized as SuperFly in press materials, I guess so people don’t think “Superfly” like “Superman.” But onscreen it’s SUPERFLY, splitting the difference. I know this only matters to me.)