'Superfly' remake is super dull, lacking toughness of '70s films

November 14, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

He's back, he's bad and he's boring.

It's "The Return of Superfly," with soap opera star Nathan Purdee standing in for Ron O'Neal, in this rather dim return to the fabled days of the blaxploitation films of the early '70s.

Yes, tell me how bad they were, how they polarized the community, how they extolled force and pushed vile values, how they glamorized the demi-monde, tell me all that but don't be offended if my eyes glaze over.

Now it's my turn to tell you some things about "blaxploitation." They were crummy movies, most of them, yes; but they represented the first time in the shameful litany of American film history that African-American men were allowed to be a.) sexually powerful and b.) physically self-reliant. Previously they had been either a.) twits like Willie Best or b.) saints like Sidney Poitier.

But if you're going to "remake" one of those suckers, doesn't it follow that you try and re-create some of the radical dynamism, the in-your-face elan, of the originals? Poor Purdee isn't quite up to the challenge: He's the most dolorous Superfly imaginable. He has almost no sexual magnetism and when he hooks up in a flash with a beautiful woman -- Margaret Avery of "The Color Purple," in a thankless role -- it seems to come from nowhere. He even seems a little porky through the middle.

The plot is the usual cheesy nonsense. Having retired to Europe, the Fly, no longer in the drug business, is persuaded to return to New York when he learns that his ex-business partner has been gunned down in a turf war. Upon returning, he's quickly in trouble with all sides.

And, with the customary cool, Superfly turns the tables on everybody to emerge triumphant, while finding time to deliver the politically correct anti-drug message.

Meanwhile, director Sig Shore hits a lot of scuzzy low notes -- the movie is full of execution-style killings in which helpless people are gunned down in a frenzy of exploding blood bags, the fight scenes are hopelessly choreographed, the plot isn't nearly as clear as I have outlined it, and the actors -- even Rhoda's ex-husband, David Groh -- are marooned somewhere between the amateur and the talentless.

Yet that was true of most blaxploitation films. What this one lacks is what Ron O'Neal as Superfly and Richard Roundtree as Shaft had in abundance: that wired sense of smarts and toughness that made you believe that such a cat could prowl the urban jungle with such pride and power. They were bad. Poor Purdee: he's good.

'The Return of Superfly'

Starring Nathan Purdee.

Directed by Sig Shore.

Released by Crash Pictures.

Rated R.

* 1/2

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