Updated at 1:13 p.m. on June 14, 2018
Superfly has a long way to go to be considered a great movie, but it's not a particularly bad one, either.
The remake of the groundbreaking 1972 Gordon Parks movie features the same story: Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson) wants to get out of the cocaine business after one last go. But no one else seems to want that: not his partners, not his rivals, not even his supplier's supplier (Esai Morales).
That's not even his biggest problem. Everyone else is more ruthless than he cares to be.
Priest is a hood with a heart, just no longer for the business. And he's smart enough to know that violence draws unwanted attention from police, which he has managed to avoid in a career he's been involved with since his teens. (Jackson, while welcome on the big screen, is almost too young to play the role of a grizzled veteran of drug-dealing who sees retiring as his only option.)
No matter. He knows that everybody will eventually come for him. He's too good at what he does. As he and his mentor, Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams), put it: "Everybody wants to be superfly."
That said, Jackson (Grown-ish) is earnest in his portrayal of the man who found value in crime through necessity and turned that life into a lifestyle with filled with cars, women and money -- the easier to make it rain, my dear. In fact, he has two girlfriends, which leads to an out-of-nowhere soft-core scene involving a really big shower. That is just one of the things that lead to questions about the agency of the involved women, who are mostly reduced to being reactive, vindictive and superfluous. And this is supposed to be an update of a 1972 film?
Either way, Jackson is an endearing actor. He's good at giving persuasive speeches about a better life. You believe him when he says that he's had enough, no matter how young he appears.
One wishes he could have persuaded Director X to tone down the use of slow-motion throughout the film, which needed all the kineticism it could get. Director X is an award-winning veteran of music videos, including Drake's "Hotline Bling," and it shows. A car chase, shot in a style quite different than the rest of the film, ends up looking more like a video game. The party scenes need the music, not the other way around.
Superfly has some ideas about police brutality and other societal ills that don't quite come to fruition. The movie even tries to make a statement about Confederate statues, a moment designed with its audience in mind, but one that fell flat in the telling. There's some serious wish-fulfillment fantasy throughout the movie (see: the scene in the shower and Priest's easy-enough relationship with the police). The movie even bends the space-time continuum; as much as I'd love a 10-hour drive from Atlanta to El Paso, it's just not happening.
But there is enough good here, even if we've seen it all before. The screen -- literally -- brightens the moment Priest's partner Eddie (Jason Mitchell) hits the scene, and when he and Priest are together, things feel as if they take off. Some of the cameos of rap's elite are well-placed: a Big Boi here, a Lecrae there. An almost unrecognizable Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon a Time), acting out like a Jennifer Jason Leigh, does the most as a corrupt cop who stumbles upon our antiheroes and wants a big piece of Priest's business.
Jackson, who should gain Hollywood's notice, has enough charm to pull off the occasional wink at the audience. His relaxed hair might as well be a character, so he lets it be one, with a pat or a smoothing here and there, even mid-fight. There's even some laugh-out-loud dialogue surrounding it: "Don't let the pretty hair fool you."
It doesn't fool his rivals, Snow Patrol (a crew, not the band). They wear all white, ride around in white cars and do the shooting that kicks off Priest's plan to leave his gig, tenuous though it may be. Any group that looks and acts as stupidly as Snow Patrol does is ultimately going to be dangerous. Wait for it.
If you're going to see the 2018 version of Superfly, I suggest you wait to watch the 1972 version. The original not only took on hot-button topics, it included indelible music from legendary songwriter Curtis Mayfield. His "Pusherman" is put to great use in the 2018 remix.
It's unfair to Future, who helmed the soundtrack for the remake, to make the comparison to super musician Curtis Mayfield. This movie wants to join the pantheon of drug classics such as its original, or even New Jack City. With great power, comes great soundtrack, right?
In the end, Superfly is as it was advertised: a stylistic gangsta movie. If you see it hoping it will change your life, that's on you, not the movie.
Rated R (for violence and language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity and drug content). 108 minutes. In wide release.