At least it looks super fly. It’s too bad that Director X (born Julien Christian Lutz), the Canadian short-form film master for the likes of Rihanna, Drake and Nicki Minaj, stumbles when he has to stretch a scene past video length. He sets his blaxploitation remake in present-day Atlanta to separate it from the 1972 Harlem-based original, directed in a more straightforward-but-effective style by Gordon Parks Jr. (whose father, incidentally, took the reins of the equally influential Shaft the year before). It’s still basically the same plot, but instead of Ron O’Neal in the role of reluctant drug dealer Youngblood Priest, model-handsome Travis Jackson steps up to the plate and steals every scene that’s not first purloined by his awesome, straightened, upswept hair. The hair wins every time. If hair could act, the Jackson tresses would be up for a follicular Oscar.
The story twists are basically warmed-over tricks from screenwriter Alex Tse. Priest is a street-bred success, one so smooth that he can sweet talk his enemies out of shooting him. But he wants one big score before leaving the game to live large in Montenegro with Georgia (Lex Scott Davis), his girlfriend, and their mutual sex toy Cynthia (Andrea Londo), who’s conveniently handy whenever Priest hankers for a threesome in the shower. That scene will draw derisive, #TimesUp laughter wherever movies are shown. So, for that matter, will the risible dialogue, like the voiceover inanity, “No car can outrun fate.” Good to know.
Even the violence has a stale feel, enlivened only by the presence of Jason Mitchell (a brilliant Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton) as Eddie, Priest’s right-hand in the cocaine-dealing business. It’s a problem for the movie having Mitchell around because he can actually act – which makes things worse for Jackson, a successful singer, dancer and songwriter whose thespian skills here and on such TV shows like American Crime have yet to rise to the occasion. In his scenes with his right-hand man or Michael Kenneth Williams’ mentor or Esai Morales’ Mexican cartel druglord, the man of the hour simply flounders. Even the Snow Patrol, a group of rival coke dealers who dress absurdly in white parkas in the steaming Georgia sun (!), show more personality. All the car chases and gunplay in the world can’t disguise the void where characterization should be. As for the white characters, corrupt cops personified by Brian F. Durkin and the against-all-odds excellent Jennifer Morrison seem like refugees from relic TV shows that died decades ago.
The Future supplies a score that has its exciting moments when not being upstaged by sampling the unforgettable Curtis Mayfield sound from the original. But Director X’s greatest failure is to make diddly-squat out of the atmosphere-rich Atlanta as a mecca for forbidden desires. Nothing about this trendy, tarted-up Superfly feels lived in or authentic. Look, it’s not like the original was any great shakes as a movie. But in trying to update blaxploitation for millennials who never asked for it and then spin the result into a pathetic, substance-deprived gloss on Brian De Palma’s coke epic Scarface – and still not come up with a fresh approach that might make sense for 2018 – Superfly gets lost in ambitions it has no idea in hell how to execute. What a mess.