This week, Hollywood goes back to the streets with the remake of the 1972 classic blaxploitation film, Superfly. Rather than go back and put the original under the microscope, this week, we decided to take a look at the long-forgotten second sequel to the movie, The Return of Superfly.
Right off the bat, the fact that this one was made in 1990 should send off alarms. Yes, this one comes a mere eighteen years after the original film, and if that’s not enough to scare you, Ron O’Neal, the original Superfly/Priest had such an awful time with the reception of the first sequel, Superfly T.N.T., he decided not to reprise the role that he made famous.
In his place is Nathan Purdee, an actor whom at the time was already 40 and whose major credit up until this point were 60 episodes of The Young and the Restless. Arguably, even though this was an early role for Samuel L. Jackson, he was already a bigger star than the lead despite the bit part, having already been seen in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing the year previous, as well as Goodfellas, which opened two months before The Return of Superfly. All this said, it should come as no surprise that his film barely made a blip on the radar, as it was beaten by every other film on the weekend of its release, even Dances with Wolves, which was playing on 246 fewer screens that week.
At the beginning of the film, our main character Priest is still in Europe (Superfly T.N.T. takes place in Rome; in this, he starts in Paris). Meanwhile, in New York, a drug dealer named Hector is making moves for underworld supremacy. When he kills Priest’s old partner Eddie, Priest returns to the states for the funeral and to track down who’s behind Eddie’s murder. As he comes back to the states, he’s also caught the eye of federal agents, who are hoping to use some leverage on Priest to take down the whole drug game.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly memorable in this film, save for one particular detail, which I will get to in a little bit. The film sort of cribs a few story beats from James Bond films (which also explains the fact that Superfly is in the same pose as Timothy Dalton is in the poster for License to Kill), specifically the disposable woman he meets early, which is a weird moment. Priest, after meeting with the feds, goes to an apartment, which I guess is his friend Armando’s; meanwhile a maybe neighbor of Armando’s is taking a shower. Rather than act like a normal human being, he barges in on her in order to… say hello? I don’t know. I feel like Bond usually has sex in this situation, which I guess is even crazier than this situation, but it’s Bond; we’ve had over 20 movies to get used to it. In this, she just pulls a gun on him, apologizes, and then it jumps to the bedroom, where they both talk like they’re old friends catching up. And she just gives him permission to use a car – a Corvette, I might add – which isn’t even hers in the first place.
While Superfly meets with old acquaintances, Hector gets wind that he’s back in town and sends his henchmen after him. While the first hit attempt leaves Irene (the chick in the shower) dead, you think it will be an opportunity that Priest will get framed for it, he doesn’t. It’s barely mentioned ever again. I don’t even think authorities ever find the body; it might still be there right now. After that, Hector has to put his best man on the job, Joey. And thank God he does, because Joey… Joey, ladies and gentlemen is a beacon of light in this movie.
Joey is played by Leonard L. Thomas, and while you may not know the name, he actually is credited in a bunch of Samuel L. Jackson films, both as an actor and as Jackson’s assistant, up through Black Snake Moan. As a villain in a low budget sequel to a blaxploitation movie made almost twenty years prior, Thomas does a fine job, but he somehow managed to elevate his performance with a single acting choice. You see, Joey has, without a doubt, the most inexplicable laugh in the history of film. Imagine if The Nanny and Elmer Fudd had a kid; that’s how Joey laughs. It’s incredible. And it’s not just a one-time thing; on several occasions, he drops this laugh more than once in a scene. I couldn’t trust myself to do this laugh any justice, so I even found all his laughs and compiled them into one video. Enjoy below; it’s fucking glorious:
Nathan Purdee is not the most charismatic actor around, and juxtaposed against Samuel L. Jackson, it becomes very clear which one has the makings of a star. Jackson acts circles around everyone, and unfortunately (SPOILERS!), he’s not around for much more than two scenes. And we never heard from him again…
The film itself misses an opportunity to do a sort of fish-out-of-water story about a guy that was a drug dealer/pimp in 1970s New York returning after nearly 20 years to a world that is much different. Between the two films, the drug-fueled 1970s gave way to the Reagan 80s, and the disenfranchisement of inner city black youth could have been a great thing to tackle in this movie. Maybe it’s a little much to ask from a second sequel of a Blaxploitation film, but the genre was always socially conscious and not tackling anything in a serious nature is a disservice.
In fact, the film itself doesn’t seem to want to follow up with anything it does. For example, after Irene is killed, Priest doesn’t need to concern himself with any sort of police investigation, which could be an interesting turn. Or when his eventual love interest, Francine, is raped, it’s barely mentioned. I will mention, though, I found it interesting that the actress that played Francine was played by an age-appropriate woman. That’s something you don’t see every day.
The Return of Superfly is a movie I didn’t even realize existed before I started this project, and with good reason. More than anything being particularly wrong with it, it’s just not that interesting. The production values are fine, the filmmaking isn’t anything egregious, it’s all just pretty bland. Except for Joey. Joey is a treasure and more people need to witness his performance.