Monday, 7 March 2011

Downtown (1990)

Anthony Edwards and  Forest Whittaker police a precinct of downtown Philadelphia that looks uniformly like Robocop has broken up the video shoot for Lionel Ritchie’s ill-advised rap foray, ‘Rock around the Glock’...

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Downtown (1990, Richard Benjamin)

Starring: Anthony Edwards, Forest Whittaker, Penelope Ann Miller,  Joe Pantoliano, Chico C. Norwood, Homeselle Joy.

Box Notables: Nothing but an utterly misleading cover photo.

Tagline: ‘When you pound this beat, it pounds you back!’

Trailers: Leviathan, Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, Nuns on the Run

Cherrypick: “I am God, and I am very angry!”

After harassing a well-connected yuppie scuzzball to the point where he throws a concrete frog through the windscreen of his own Porsche, pedantic Aryan beat-cop Alex Kearney (Anthony Edwards) finds himself transferred out of the plush tranquility of a suburban Philadelphia that resembles how America might have turned out if Nixon had gotten away with it all. Chastened but unbowed, he slips into his civvies of a peach polo shirt, culottes and Le Coq Sportif high-tops, revs up the soft-top Beetle and with the Jan&Dean blaring, heads to his new precinct – downtown. 

It’s gonna be a bumpy ride…
Edwards with famous scientist, Tom Cruise
Downtown Philly looks uniformly like Robocop has broken up the video shoot for Lionel Ritchie’s ill-advised rap foray, ‘Rock around the Glock’. And it’s certainly a harsh farewell to Paradise City and a swift welcome to the jungle as Edwards endures a fifteen-minute shoot-out, sundry ass-chewings and a swift “bubblefuck” before he’s even been given his locker key. A couple of illegal choke-holds and a montage of junkies, Crips and hoes set to the elderly Jewish director’s conception of rap music later and we’re ‘accidentally falling down the stairs’ of some bland intrigue surrounding a gang of international car thieves led by Joe ‘Pants’ Pantoliano’s murderous ecologist.

Given no clearly defined duties, Edwards begins mooching around with Forest Whitaker’s droopy-lidded Detective Curren - a tormented lone wolf with a lovely wife and a gaggle of well-adjusted children. It’s not long before Forest has our boy climbing chain-link fences, driving through teetering stacks of empty boxes and torturing perps like a seasoned vet. As always, Whitaker seems to be playing his character as a dangerously pent-up retard who has wandered over from another movie set. It is not until he has instigated a massive bonding punch-up, made an unexpected homosexual admission and gotten shit-faced with Edwards (all dependable long-game Oscar-bait tactics that would eventually see him pick up a gong for The Lost King of Scotland) that he accepts his neo-partner into the urban Mordor of his psychic landscape and we're forced to get on with the plot.
Whitaker in a film based on a book by another famous scientist...
Edwards spends much of the rest of the film running pell-mell around Uzi dens and crack tenements dressed like an Ivy League chess club semi-finalist and merely suffers a good-natured debagging from a drug-crazed Mexican family for all his constant tight-assery and self-righteous honky meddling. With that in mind, it seems a mite unfair that Whitaker’s one brief, cautious visit to Edwards’ old precinct leaves him hospitalised by a point-blank shotgun blast to the head. He plays no further part in proceedings, thus leaving Johnny Whitebread with a clear run at third act glory.

It is a curious statistic that every third movie of the ERH period had its finale on a pier (F/X: Murder by Illusion, Young Einstein), and every fifth on a pier with hordes of goons guarding a drug shipment (Hannah and Her Sisters, K-9). No shock-haired Aussie flash-in-the-pans or horny Alsatians to liven things up here though unfortunately, and things wind torpidly down to ‘Be Kind - Rewind’ time only to be momentarily enlivened when, after a desultory mid-to-high speed car chase, Edwards repaints the side of a container ship using only Joey Pants and an industrial wood-chipper.
Joey Pants with... uh-oh - LEGALLLL!!!!
In transposing Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ to ‘80’s Philly, director Richard Benjamin offers up the fall of man to the rap generation. As the war in heaven rages across the rolling golf courses and manicured lawns of white-collar America, Edwards’ Lucifer - once the brightest star in heaven - plummets to earth armed only with a shield and the spectral promise of trickle-down economic recovery. In Whitaker we are presented with a moody Mammon ably making the best of the hell allotted him. Between them they wryly preside over the banishment of man from the garden, each coming to realise that any garden is ultimately a prison and that America was born on the street.


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