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The Return of Superfly

tn_returnofsuperfly“Me and Priest go back to the golden age of hustlin.”

Alot of people tend to forget that Superfly returned in 1990. And unlike, say, Batman in BATMAN RETURNS, he actually had a place to return from. He’s still living overseas, now in Paris, when he hears his old partner Eddie has been killed, so he finally comes back to New York.

Oh shit, but I fell into the trap. “Superfly” was never his name, his name was Youngblood Priest and the title referred to the alleged quality of his illegal medicinal products. And it was two words anyway. Super Fly. Maybe “The Return of Superfly” means that Eddie’s dope was not up to snuff and now has been replaced by superior product by this guy Hector (Carlos Carrasco, CROCODILE DUNDEE II, SPEED, PARKER), who’s taking over.

Flying in, Priest gets stopped by customs and forced into helping The Man take down Hector. He does it for revenge and for personal ass-saving, but it’s still kinda sad to see Priest subjugated like this after his militant turn in Part T.N.T. Maybe that’s why Ron O’Neal didn’t do it, they replaced him with soap opera actor Nathan Purdee (Santa Barbara, The Young and the Restless, One Life To Live). He has a pretty similar smoothness to O’Neal, so he’s actually a pretty good choice for a replacement, but I think we can agree there shouldn’t be a replacement. You’d think that not having O’Neal would be the one dealbreaker for making this movie.

And shit, even if they’re gonna go through with it with a different guy, obviously this different guy should have the long, straight hair, right? What’s up with the short hair? Fuck changing fashions. Priest would keep the long hair until he was bald. You know this.

Incidentally, Eddie is played by a different guy too, Rony Clanton (CLAUDINE, RAPPIN’, JUICE). But that’s fair because the original’s Carl Lee died of an overdose an hour after filming his part in the James Toback movie EXPOSED (1983). It was still a smart idea to bring the character back. Where’s Georgia, though?

This is not as arty as the other two and more of a b-action movie. There’s more violence than in the other two combined. There are shootouts, murders, a little torture, he blows up a bunch of drug fronts and he uses karate twice. He has two different special ladies, one gets killed immediately.

So it’s a different era, cast, style, feel and level of quality than the original, but it’s not completely disconnected from it because the director is Sig Shore, whose name you may remember humbly and inconspicuously attached to the first one:

sigshoreproduction

The writer, Anthony Wisdom, only did one other movie, but it was Fred Williamson’s THE MESSENGER, so he checks out okay. I’m glad this is not made by somebody who had nothing to do with SUPER FLY or the blaxploitation genre, but this is the only chapter in the saga by a white director. O’Neal’s Part T.N.T. seemed motivated by an actorly need to evolve the character of Priest, Shore’s RETURN seems motivated by a producerly hope of exploiting new movements in black/youth culture. The kids, they like these rappers. These rappers, they like SUPER FLY.

mp_returnofsuperflyTake for example the VHS cover (like T.N.T. it’s still not on DVD), which shows the very 1990 image of the words “SUPER FLY” shaved into the back of a young man’s hi-top fade. That was their idea of how to illustrate the concept of this character existing in this time. As a fan of ridiculous shit I wish this was something that literally happens in the movie, unfortunately it’s some kind of, you know, metaphor or whatever. If it makes you feel better there is a part where a guy does freestyle bicycle tricks to distract some bad guys while Priest’s friend puts a bomb under their car. So there is some dated 1990 shit in there for sure.

Oh yeah, and there’s this line: “I’m sure you’re gonna write a book. You’re gonna go on The Arsenio Hall Show, Pat Sajak, Johnny Carson…”

I almost didn’t catch it at first, I thought “Oh cool, an Arsenio reference, and this was when Johnny was still on” before I realized “oh shit, this was made during the 16 months when Pat Sajak had a late night talk show!” Good time capsule material there.

Anyway, it would be a pretty cool nostalgia thing for somebody to actually get the exact haircut from the cover. Please send me a picture if you do it, I will post it here, thanks.

This cover is actually worth examining. “He’s hot as ice and twice as cool.” I like that they’re going for a blaxploitation style tagline all these years later, and it even has a bit of a rhyme in there. But what does “hot as ice” mean? Is that really a thing?

isaac-loveboatAlso I really gotta question the wisdom of trying to reinvent “Superfly” for the age of hip hop by making him look less like the iconic Ron O’Neal character and more like Isaac from The Love Boat.

The theme song, “Superfly 1990,” is produced by Lenny Kravitz, performed by Curtis Mayfield, featuring Ice-T. When Ice comes in it’s a more awkward fit than it sounds like on paper, but it’s forgivable in my opinion because it’s clearly better than the terrible rappers featured on Mayfield’s otherwise impressive final album New World Order.

This was shortly before a stage light fell on Mayfield and paralyzed him. Shore was wise enough to get him to do the soundtrack, including several new songs and a driving instrumental that repeats throughout most of the movie. Being 1990 we have to deal with synthesized basslines and a keyboard sound like the one in Prince’s “Take Me With U,” but we also get the pure ’70sness of Curtis’s soulful falsetto and alot of bongos and other percussion. It doesn’t sound like classic Curtis, but it’s pretty great by the standards of 1990’s funky keyboard action movie scoring. There’s also pretty good hip hop songs by the likes of King Tee, Def Jef and Eazy E. You know what, I just convinced myself to order this soundtrack too. And this one was even released on CD.

The upcoming actor Sam Jackson (also seen in DEF BY TEMPTATION, A SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM, BETSY’S WEDDING, MO BETTER BLUES, THE EXORCIST III and GOODFELLAS this same year) plays an old friend of Priest’s, now manufacturing crack from a house in the suburbs. This was after he played Greek chorus DJ Mr. Senor Love Daddy in DO THE RIGHT THING, before he played crackhead Flipper Gator Purify in JUNGLE FEVER. I don’t think that’s why he was cast, but I do suspect there is some Spike Lee influence later in the movie, in the symbolic scene where the people of the neighborhood, including a Da Mayor-esque old man on a stoop, all come out of the their homes to converge on a gun-shooting drug dealer and tell him off. It’s also not shy about showing alot of cops as brutal, racist assholes. It’s trying to have the righteous cake of T.N.T. and the streetwise eating it of SUPER FLY, but unfortunately it’s not doing as good a job of either.

Maybe O’Neal should’ve made THE RETURN OF SUPER FLY T.N.T., soundtrack by Osibisa featuring KRS-One.

This is clearly the weak, questionable-if-it-even-counts entry in the trilogy, and I don’t like that it kind of voids the growth and possible redemption that Priest gained through his experiences in T.N.T. But I don’t mean to entirely dismiss it as a piece of crappy entertainment. I know if it was O’Neal in the role it would feel more legit and I’d be alot easier on it. There are lots of cheesy action movie tropes that I always enjoy, for example the ol’ “How do I know I can trust you?” / flips-him,-takes-his-rifle-from-him,-hands-it-back-to-him move. And the crazy explosives expert who helps him blow shit up and lets him browse his ridiculous library of guns and ammo to choose the right one for his needs.

There’s some funny lines:

“You always shower with a gun?”

“I’ve seen PSYCHO five times.”

And let’s give Priest credit for a knowingly terrible pun he makes while they’re touring all of Hector’s drug fronts and blowing them up. His buddy thinks it’s funny that one of the fronts is a health food store.

“Yeah. Guess it’s not what it’s all… cracked up to be, huh?”

He’s got this look on his face like he knows it’s a terrible joke but he doesn’t care, and it makes it kind of funny and hard to hate. I guess that’s kind of how I feel about the movie in the end.

 

vhs

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 at 1:08 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

46 Responses to “The Return of Superfly”

  1. caruso_stalker217

    April 23rd, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Sam Jackson was Gator, not Flipper, in JUNGLE FEVER.

  2. “Being 1990 we have to deal with synthesized basslines and a keyboard sound like the one in Prince’s “Take Me With U,” ”

    I had two thoughts running in my head when I read this.

    (1) Weird Vern makes a Prince reference a few days after it was announced that he and WB broke bread and are reissuing his catalogue. Synergy, people!

    (2) Considering this movie came out in 1990, is it possible that it sounds more like GRAFFITI BRIDGE (Prince’s album that came out that year) than that song? I mean that album has some merit, with alot of clutter too, but all together that really really is pure early-1990s music right there.

    (“Elephants & Flowers” still rocks though.)

  3. ah yes, 1990, the first full year I spent on this Earth, the year Superfly returned

  4. Not bad. Mine was the year punk, hip hop, and Star Wars were invented, but that’s cool, too.

  5. don’t forget though, mine was also the year of DARKMAN

  6. The second half of the seventies might have been the pinnacle of Western culture.

  7. RBatty024 – Indeed it was. Because that´s when I was born.

  8. That VHS cover reminded me of a funny story from my youth. The mom and pop video store in the small town I grew up in used to have movie sales and give away all of their old posters. They’d all be in a box rolled up with the white side out with the title written on one corner. Now back in 1990 I would’ve been 9 years old so I didn’t know anything about “blaxploitation”, and being from the middle of Saskatchewan I don’t think I’d even seen a black person anywhere but on TV at that point, so when I was looking through the posters it came down to two choice “Return of Superfly” and “Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter”. Now what I was into at that age (and still am to this day really) was monsters, so I thought “Return of Superfly” was talking about a giant monster “super fly”. You could only take one poster so I picked Superfly because I thought that was slightly cooler than a mutant reporter. Imagine my disappointment when I got it home, unrolled it, and instead got the back of some guy’s head with the word “Superfly” shaved into it. To this day I regret not grabbing the Radioactive Reporter poster. I did still hang the poster anyway, but sadly it has been lost somewhere in time.

  9. That’s exactly how I got my RETURN OF SWAMP THING poster. Which would have been a lot cooler if Heather Locklear had had “Swamp Thing” shaved into her hightop fade.

  10. You lost out!

    http://www.canuxploitation.com/review/radioactive.html

    “ROTRR is watchable, but it is not particularly exciting or even Canadian beyond the obvious Toronto locations (Mick E Fynn’s, The Silver Dollar, Queen Street West). However, one fun Canuxploitation scene features Mike dumping a board member in a wood chipper, whose remains end up splattered all over a nearby truck’s Ontario license plate.”

  11. That’s a poster quote if ever I saw one.

    “WATCHABLE!” –Canuxploitation.com

  12. Uh… did I miss the rest of it or does Ice-T just say “1990” over and over and then have, maybe, MAYBE like two lines of half-rap in there?

  13. Ice got paid by the syllable back then.

  14. “The second half of the seventies might have been the pinnacle of Western culture.”

    well I consider the 80’s and 90’s to be the pinnacle of Western culture

  15. and I thank God I was lucky enough to even get a glimpse of it’s glory

  16. I hate to burst your bubblegum nostalgia there chaps, but you are competing with 1971. Heres a down and dirty sample of what you young ‘uns weren’t around for-

    1. DIRTY HARRY
    2. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
    3. THE FRENCH CONNECTION
    4. SHAFT
    5. THAT’S RIGHT MUTHAFUCKA I SAID SHAFT
    6. GET CARTER
    7. THE BIG BOSS
    8. BILLY JACK

    And if that’s not enough to make your star wars figures shrivel in their boxes, how about the album LED ZEPPELIN (untitled, it’s NOT called Led Zeppelin IV).

    Still not convinced? See point #5.

  17. Darren – the year I was born , the following films were released:

    1:MAD MAX
    2.APOCALYPSE NOW
    3:ALIEN
    4:THE WARRIORS
    5:PHANTASM
    6:ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS

    I would argue that it rivals 1971 in certain aspects. I don´t care much for Shaft myself ( I am a Truck Turner guy) and Big Boss isn´t really a great movie even though it introduced the kick ass wonder of Bruce Lee.

    You got me on Led Zeppelin, though.

  18. and Dirty Harry

  19. Appendix Of Honesty – Being a 6 year old in 1977 I was the recipient of several ‘star wars figures’, however they were all removed from their packaging, played with and then put into a star wars collectors box carry case. Which I still own. For nostalgia reasons. I no longer play with them, or even display them like Steve Carell in The 40 year virgin. I promise.

    Shoot – can’t argue with any of your Year Movies, except The Warriors which I could never get down with. Even though I love Walter Hill. It was just too stagey and artificial for my tastes.

  20. I’m not gonna get tricked into revealing how old I am, so can I suggest that we stick to the movies that made an impact on us at an early age? VHS was my medium growing up, and the movies that influenced me the most when I saw them in pirated video versions were HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, THE WILD BUNCH, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, MR MAJESTYK, THEY CALL ME TRINITY, BULLITT, MAGNUM FORCE, FOR A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, GOLDFINGER, THE DIRTY DOZEN, WHERE EAGLES DARE, COLD SWEAT…

  21. There have been other half-decades that can compete with the second half of the seventies movie wise, but once you factor in the birth of hip-hop and punk, it’s just no contest, in my humble opinion. Of course, I’m now being nostalgic for a time I was never able to actually experience, but I like to think this makes me more objective.

  22. pegs- You list a lot of the same movies that made an impact on me as well at an early age. James Bond and Clint Eastwood-movies being prevalent.

  23. I don’t know much about hip-hop, but to me some of the black films of the early 90’s with Tupac and by the Hughes brothers and Spike Lee, have a similar feel to 70’s films in general. There’s a rawness to them the way they’re made outside the system, about a demographic that doesn’t get a lot of attention in movies. Hip-hop was a good crossover aesthetic that made the 70’s and 90’s kinda fit with each other.

  24. Okay, I’ll fess up and say I was born in 1974. Weird year of awesome and terrible. We had Watergate, Patty Hearst’s kidnapping, Hank Aaron set homerun record, Ted Bundy’s starting killing women, Ramones 1st concert at CBGB, Bob Dylan released Blood on the Tracks, Rumble in the Jungle, Carrie published.

    As far as movies go, good luck beating this lineup: BLAZING SADDLES, GODFATHER II, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, CHINATOWN, DEATH WISH, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.

  25. The year of the CHAINSAW was a pretty good year for movies Maggie. And I’m pretty sure Mel Brooks’ campfire baked-beans scene broke new ground for comedy, and paved the way for Jim Carrey to be paid millions of dollars to talk through his arse. Which is not a complaint. Carrey makes me laugh.

  26. I could definitely get on board with the idea that the 70s returned in the 90s. In addition to The Return of Superfly, both punk and hip-hop reentered a supposed golden age. The 90s were when hip-hop finally got its due as an art form and as a cultural force. There’s also that documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke that follows Sonic Youth and Nirvana. Also, if John Cassavetes pioneered American independent film making in the 70s, then indie films burst into the public consciousness in the 90s. Of course, there was also a lot of unsavory 70s influence that appeared in the 90s: people wearing birkenstocks and listening to jam bands.

  27. Damn… buncha youngsters all up in this mug. I was born in 1524, and not long after graduating salutatorian from my Catholic school was tapped by my homeboy Father Giuseppe to serve on The Council Of Trent. Suffice to say, such a hefty responsibility didn’t leave much time for dilly-dallying at the local multiplex. Still, that era did manage to crank out such time-honored gems as POPES UP/HO’S DOWN, IT’S AN ECUMENICAL LIFE, CANON 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, and THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

    Anyone else wanna share?

  28. Larry, I also have a fondness for B movies of the 1570’s and 80’s like CATHOLIC SCHOOL REFORM GIRLS – IM SORRY SISTER I DIDNT REALISE THEY WERE ‘PRAYER’ BEADS.

  29. I did some poking around Wikipedia on the films of 1977 and it’s quite a respectable list. Besides your big 3 of STAR WARS, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, I see some personal favorites like BLACK SUNDAY, ROLLING THUNDER, CROSS OF IRON, THE DUELLISTS, THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, SLAP SHOT, and the now re-discovered SORCERER. Of course, there’s also the coup de grace of ABBA THE MOVIE directed by Lasse Halstrom.

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  31. One thing is undeniable, the 70’s was the BEST DECADE EVER for movies.

  32. 1965 to 1975, that’s the best 10 years in movie history.

  33. Rememeber in the 1620´s when THE ADVENTURES OF MARTIN LUTHER opened? Man, that was a controversial movie!

  34. 1520´s, I meant.

  35. Given some of the sociopolitical views Larry has shared with us in the past, it’s not particularly surprising that he claims to have spent his formative years pre-Age of Enlightenment.

  36. The Original... Paul

    April 28th, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    The year I was born we got “Caddyshack”, “Airplane”, and “Flash Gordon”. Seems appropriate somehow.

    Also “Raging Bull” and “The Shining”, if those are more your taste. But let’s be serious here, they’re up against “Airplane”. What chance do Kubrick and Scorsese have against the might of Leslie Nielsen?

  37. Leslie Nielson- who my old man lovingly refers to as “that idiot”.

  38. This was the first Superfly movie I ever saw. I felt like such a poser by the time I came around to seeing the original. Also Superfly 1990 has to be one of the lamest updates ever. It sounds nothing like what a 1990’s version of that song should sound like. It’s just coasting off the classic 70’s sounds like shit is sweet.

  39. Mr. Majestyk – Not bad. Mine was the year punk, hip hop, and Star Wars were invented, but that’s cool, too.

    Considering that these things happened during different years (’74, ’73 and ’77 respectively) my mind is blown.

  40. I might have fudged the “invented” part. But they were all formative years for both.

  41. 1977 is the year I am discussing. Not sure why I’m being so imprecise.

  42. Man, I’m rereading that sentence I wrote and it’s just gibberish. Like something W would say. I think I need another cup of coffee.

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