Film Review: The Meteor Man (1993)

Release Date: August 6th, 1993
Directed by: Robert Townsend
Written by: Robert Townsend
Music by: Cliff Eidelman
Cast: Robert Townsend, Marla Gibbs, Eddie Griffin, Robert Guillaume, James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby, Another Bad Creation, Luther Vandross, Sinbad, Naughty by Nature, Cypress Hill, Big Daddy Kane, Stephanie E. Williams, Roy Fegan, Frank Gorshin, Marilyn Coleman, Bobby McGee, Don Cheadle, Nancy Wilson, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Jenifer Lewis, LaWanda Page, Faizon Love, Biz Markie, John Witherspoon, Wallace Shawn, Chris Tucker (uncredited)

Tinsel Townsend, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t have to vote. I’ll leave. I’m sorry about what happened to the neighborhood tonight, but I feel even sorrier watching what’s going on in this room. How can we stop the crime and the gangs if we act like we don’t see them? Everybody complains about the police. They aren’t perfect, but how can you complain when you do nothing? You don’t have to vote.” – Jefferson Reed

Meteor Man is a very ’90s movie but it’s also aged tremendously well for what it is. Additionally, it has so much heart it’s damn hard not to love. Plus, it features a large roster of legendary black actors that it’s really cool seeing them all in one place under the direction of the uber talented and then young Robert Townsend.

I love this movie, although I was a bit apprehensive in revisiting it for the first time in at least two decades, as I didn’t want my memories of it to be diminished.

I’m happy to say that I actually have a deeper appreciation for it now than I did back then when I was really impressionable and nowhere near as versed in motion picture history or the art of filmmaking.

To be real, this is a film with several flaws and it features a superhero whose powers are never clearly defined and seem to change on a whim for plot convenience. At the same time, this barely matters, as this isn’t simply a cookie cutter superhero tale, it’s something deeper with more meaning than a typical Marvel or DC adaptation. It’s also better than the vast majority of comic book movies from (and before) its era.

At its core, this examines the turmoil and effects of inner city crime on its communities. It asks when “enough is enough” and it shows good people actively trying to overcome it and clean up their neighborhoods.

Many critics in 1993 tried to make the point that the film failed because it showed that people could only make a difference with a superhero doing the bulk of the work. What the reviewers failed to see was the bigger picture or frankly, the f’n film.

Reason being, Meteor Man loses his powers and is about to be killed by the violent gang and that’s the moment where the good, scared folks of the neighborhood finally proclaim that “enough is enough” and they fight back to help save the one man that came to their rescue when he’s at his darkest hour.

The community in the film become the heroes the neighborhood needs. And while Meteor Man regains his powers for a final showdown with the film’s big villain, it’s the community again that saves the day when even bigger villains show up to finish the job. More than anything else, this is about people inspiring each other and coming together.

That being said, it’s still really damn cool that this message came together so beautifully in a film about a superhero. That also made it cooler and more universally accessible for all ages than just being a movie about a gang controlled neighborhood. We’d seen those many time before this and many of them lacked the heart and soul that Townsend put into this motion picture.

As far as I know, this is also the first black superhero film. If it’s not, please correct me in the comments.

All in all, Meteor Man is a product of its time but that doesn’t mean that its message isn’t relevant, today. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s energetic, it has character, it has love and it definitely deserves more recognition than its gotten over the years. I hope, at some point, new generations discover it and see it for what it is and not what the critics in 1993 thought it was.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Robert Townsend movies, as well as other ’90s superhero movies.

Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.

Film Review: Bébé’s Kids (1992)

Also known as: Robin Harris’ Bébé’s Kids (video title)
Release Date: July 31st, 1992
Directed by: Bruce W. Smith
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Based on: characters by Robin Harris
Music by: John Barnes
Cast: Robin Harris (archive footage), Faizon Love, Nell Carter, Myra J., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tone Lōc, Wayne Collins, Jonell Green, Marques Houston, John Witherspoon, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams, Louie Anderson

Hyperion Studio, Paramount Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“I am pissed off to the highest level of pissivity.” – Robin Harris

I saw Bébé’s Kids in the theater when I was thirteen. I watched it again a few years later but I haven’t seen it since the ’90s. But being that I always loved Robin Harris’ comedy act and having rewatched the first House Party recently, I wanted to also go back and revisit this, which took Harris’ most famous reoccurring comedy bit and turned it into an animated film. It was also written by Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director of the first House Party, a film where he worked with Harris.

While this isn’t a classic and it doesn’t boast animation worth praising, it still works for me. I thought the bits were still funny and even though Robin Harris died before this was made, I thought Faizon Love did a stupendous job of providing the animated Robin with a voice that encapsulated his unique spirit and energy. This was also the first credit to Love’s name and for him to be able to do this so well, is pretty impressive.

A funny thing that caught me off guard is that I forgot that Tone Lōc did the voice of the baby, Peewee. Lōc really steals the show in every scene that he’s in. You also get some voice work by Nell Carter and John Witherspoon.

This is a fun, silly movie but it has a good heart. It’s message and it’s purpose are noble and it actually hits you in the feels, which you just don’t expect when spending the majority of this film watching these jerk kids destroy a theme park while making everyone’s life hell.

Bébé’s Kids probably won’t resonate with most people in 2018 but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Maybe some of that is nostalgia or my love of Robin Harris but it still hits the right notes for me.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Reginald Hudlin’s House Party movies.