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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Superfly' Is Back in N.Y. but Should Have Stayed in Paris

November 12, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1972 "Superfly" became a huge hit, fueling the cycle of so-called "blaxploitation" pictures, and stirred up considerable controversy because it made a hero out of a Harlem cocaine peddler. "Superfly's" Priest, played by Ron O'Neal, was undeniably his own man, and having made it to the top in an incredibly dangerous and ruthless world, developed a yearning to discover whether he had a choice to stay in it or get out.

The following year, O'Neal, who had held the often-implausible "Superfly" together with his smoldering, virile presence, made a strong directorial debut with the impressive and substantial "Superfly T.N.T. ," in which he again starred as Priest, who in the limbo of European exile undergoes a spiritual transformation when he agrees to help a small African nation overthrow the yoke of colonialism.

Now we have "The Return of Superfly" (citywide), which is about as hopelessly mediocre as a movie can be and still get a theatrical release. For reasons never made clear, Priest (now played by Nathan Purdee) leaves Paris, where he says his only problem was in choosing restaurants in which to dine, for New York, where predictably he walks right into a battle between the law and a crack cocaine ring. The Priest of the earlier pictures would have been too smart not to know this would happen--but then he would have had a compelling reason to return in the first place. (The film says he's been gone only "eight or 10 years"; however, Purdee looks about the same age--late 30s--as O'Neal did 17 years ago.)

The film has an undeniable consistency: Anthony Wisdom's script is just as much a piece of hack work as is Sig Shore's direction, and all other technical aspects are equally tacky. Not even the score by Curtis Mayfield, who composed the phenomenally popular music for the first film, is exciting. (It's now more like "Superfly" with a hip-hop beat.)

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