There’s a high tone sheen to the new “Superfly,” a gloss of drug-trade affluence that we haven’t seen in a movie since “Scarface.”
Designer clothes, fur-trimmed pimpwear, mansions, supercars. exotic firearms and elaborate hairstyles highlight a remake that’s a shiny Director X (Julien Christian Lutz) Atlanta updating of what’s regarded as a Blaxploitation classic.
The Alex Tse (“Sucker Free City,” “Watchmen”) script crackles with quotable cinematic street slang — “Get those commas up” (raise more money), “You almost got GOT” (killed), Get that BASS out’you voice!” and “I won’t go NOWHERE where the ‘J’s’ are silent!” (south of the border).
But that script wallows in “Scarface” homages and sequences to the point where when you see the beginning of the scene, you already know how it’s going to pay off. Characters blurt out exposition, trite situations are forced into the proceedings, simply due to script requirements.
If you’ve plunged into one party where overdressed drug dealers are flinging Dead Presidents into the air, you’ve plunged into them all.
And the title character. Trevor Jackson of TV’s “Grown-ish” and “American Crime,” may be pretty — and we’re not just talking about that styled-to-the-max hair. But he’s a bit young to be this top dog in drugs, and the actor’s not quite there in terms of nailing this amoral Robin Hood of Coke’s charisma.
He has the trappings of Cool Gangsta — a Lexus supercar, two women who live with him in a menage a trois (Lex Scott Davis, Andrea Londo) and the easy respect of all who deal with him. It’s just that Jackson can’t carry himself in a way that sells the swagger.
This is a world of dueling dealers all trying to stay under the radar of the corrupt local police. Youngblood Priest (Jackson) and his lieutenant Eddie (Jason Mitchell) have kept their records clean, despite years of lucrative apprenticeship to Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams).
That’s probably because the Snow Patrol, a preening, showboating gang obsessed with white leather, white cars, white sneakers, white furs and white guns, is the designer dominant drug supplier to the ATL. Their Grille King overlord, Q (Big Bank Black) leaves Scatter, Priest & Co. alone.
Save for the punk footsoldier JuJu (Kaalan Walker). He’s a Snow Patrolman out to stir things up.
That turns Priest’s thoughts from making himself “Superfly,” and toward escape. All he needs, and say the Drug Deal Movie Cliche with me, “is one LAST JOB.”
Everybody jokes about Priest’s “pretty hair” as he travels among the city’s hip, high and mighty, or downlow and fur-covered.
Naturally, there’s a Mexican drug lord (Esai Morales really should start turning these down at this stage) that must be dealt with. And we’ve seen variations of those “dealt with” scenes in a dozen other, better movies.
It’s all pretty to look at, but the sheen comes at the expense of character development among the most interesting players in the cast. The mentor/pupil thing with Williams gets a flashback or two, the menage a trois gets an explicit shower and sex scene and the perfunctory blunders and betrayals — drive-bys, drawling cops (Jennifer Morrison of “How I Met Your Mother”) looking for their cut — and “surprise” twists we see coming a mile off aren’t remotely as dazzling as the set dressing.
No, the star isn’t reduced to that — set dressing. Jackson’s good in the action moments and there’s presence in other scenes.
It’s just that whatever points the script wants to score on murder-by-police, African American affluence of the “any means necessary” variety and the like are undercut by the shiny surface of all this. The grunge and edge are scrubbed off the city, and with them, the desperation that made this bad guy who made The Man play by His Rules so appealing, is lost. He had the hair long before he had the Benjamins.
This “Superfly” is all pompadour and clothes and cars. There’s nothing beneath the surface.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, and drug content
Cast: Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Lex Scott Davis, Andrea Londo, Michael Kenneth Williams, Kaalan Walker, Big Boi, Big Bank Black and Esai Morales
Credits:Directed by Director X, script by Alex Tse . A Sony Columbia release.
Running time: 1:50