Somewhere between ridiculously stylish and stylishly ridiculous lies “Superfly,” a modern so-bad-it’s-kinda-good remake of the 1970s blaxploitation classic that offers as much close-up twerking as kung fu fighting.
Like a bonkers mashup of “The Last Dragon,” “Scarface” and a particularly gonzo episode of “Empire,” “Superfly” (★★½ out of four; rated R; in theaters nationwide Wednesday) is chock-full of all the sex and ultraviolence you’d imagine finding on the streets of Atlanta with a bunch of cocaine dealers, exotic dancers and dirty cops living their most dangerous, action-packed lives.
Led by a swaggering Trevor Jackson — brandishing silky Morris Day hair, deadly karate kicks and flashy wardrobe changes — the urban crime drama contains cheesy dialogue, one noteworthy threesome, multiple scenes of raining Benjamins and haphazard plot transitions aplenty. However, instead of “Superfly” being deep-sixed by these flaws, they contribute to the film’s self-aware, guilty-pleasure vibe.
Fans of the original 1972 “Super Fly” will find a similar story: On the hustle since he was 11, Youngblood Priest (Jackson) has a knack for seeing several moves ahead of everybody else in the drug game. One night, a rival gangster pulls a gun on him, but thanks to a sweet “Matrix”-type move, Priest isn’t hit but a female bystander is wounded. The moment causes Priest to seriously ponder his life choices: Specifically, he’s either going to die or end up in prison if he stays on this path.
Priest decides he needs one final score to net enough money so that he and his two — yes, two — girlfriends Georgia (Lex Scott Davis) and Cynthia (Andrea Londo) can hightail it out of the country. Priest reaches out to boss/sensei Scatter (Michael K. Williams) to increase product but the elder criminal balks, not wanting to attract police interest. So Priest and his partner Eddie (the super-duper-fly Jason Mitchell) go around Scatter to deal with his supplier, environmentally conscious Mexican drug lord Adalberto Gonzalez (Esai Morales), which causes way more headaches for the embattled Priest.
Almost everybody’s overacting like a champ, though the most scenery is chewed by Jennifer Morrison and Brian F. Durkin as corrupt law enforcement. “Superfly” touches on police brutality and Black Lives Matter, though it’s not as progressive with its female characters, who engage in the same pettiness and catfights you’d see in “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
Everything’s a little over-the-top here, as filmmaker Director X seems to be embracing a “Fast and Furious” aesthetic. In one tense scene, a door is opened on an airplane mid-flight but instead of getting sucked out and sent to their doom, dudes stand around like it’s a windy day. A bunch of coke-slinging goons dressed all in white known as the Snow Patrol (a little on the nose, but we’ll allow it) look like they sauntered out of a G.I. Joe cartoon. And in “Superfly’s” big car chase, vehicles drift-race through a park and a Confederate statue goes up in flames.
X made his mark doing music videos for Drake, Rihanna and other luminaries, and he brings the same heightened style to “Superfly.” One henchman’s outdoor funeral gets a church choir, and the film makes good use of hip-hop icons like Rick Ross and OutKast’s Antwan “Big Boi” Patton. The soundtrack is full of new Future songs and, naturally, old-school Curtis Mayfield tunes from the original film also make an appearance.
But you don’t have to love rap to find the new “Superfly” a bizarrely watchable and often funny confluence of thug life and B-movie campiness.