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: Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

Also known as: Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle (VHS title)
Release Date: March 20th, 1987
Directed by: Robert Townsend
Written by: Keenan Ivory Wayans, Robert Townsend, Dom Irrera (uncredited)
Music by: Udi Harpaz
Cast: The Hollywood Platers (Robert Townsend, Anne-Marie Johnson, Craigus R. Johnson, Helen Martin, Starletta DuPois, David McKnight, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Lou B. Washington, Brad Sanders, John Witherspoon, Eugene Robert Glazer, Lisa Mende, Dom Irrera, Damon Wayans, Kim Wayans, Rusty Cundieff, Steve James)

Conquering Unicorn, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 78 Minutes, 81 Minutes (Ontario cut)

Review:

“There’s always work at the post office.” – Bobby Taylor

Man, I hadn’t seen this movie in a few decades. I think the last time I watched it was when I was a teen in the ’90s working at a video store. It sort of washed away with time but it was on the Criterion Channel for about a month, so I figured I’d revisit it before it vanished.

Robert Townsend is a talented guy and he was one of my favorite comedians and entertainers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I loved his short-lived sketch comedy show on Fox, as well as his superhero film Meteor Man. However, this is probably the best thing he’s made.

Sure, this was his directorial debut and he would go on to have a lengthy, fruitful career but there’s just something superb and honest about this movie. Plus, it displays his, as well as Keenan Ivory Wayans’, immense creativity and great sense of humor.

This film almost feels like an anthology, as it is primarily a series of skits and sequences. However, there is a main story that ties everything together. The presentation style of it feels a lot like Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF. It also feels very ’80s but that kind of just adds to the charm of it, looking at it all these years later.

Hollywood Shuffle is a parody and commentary on how black talent was being used and exploited in Hollywood. It was a tongue-in-cheek, humorous critique on how Hollywood viewed blacks but told from the black perspective. Strangely, thirty-three years later, a lot of what’s here still rings true.

While I feel like there have been definite strides since 1987, Hollywood is still a cesspool of assholes and deluded dipshits that only make changes when decades of white guilt pushes them into thoughtless platitudes and declarations that don’t actually fix the system and only expose it being out of touch, pompous and so high on its own farts that it needs to wear a helmet to walk down the hall.

Anyway, enough with the imbeciles running the system, Hollywood Shuffle just justifiably puts them on blast and does so quite well. It just sucks that seeing this, all these years later, only kind of reinforces the points that are cleverly made in the film. Sure, Hollywood thinks its doing better now but so does the heroin junkie that woke up next to some spare change in the dumpster behind Del Taco.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the early films of Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans.

Film Review: Ratboy (1986)

Release Date: October 17th, 1986
Directed by: Sondra Locke
Written by: Rob Thompson
Music by: Lennie Niehaus
Cast: Sondra Locke, Sharon Baird, Robert Townsend, Christopher Hewett, Larry Hankin, Sydney Lassick, Gerrit Graham, Louie Anderson, Billie Bird, John Witherspoon, Gary Riley, Courtney Gains, M.C. Gainey, Jon Lovitz, Bill Maher

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 104 Minutes

Review:

After seeing the trailer and checking out the critical consensus on this film, I thought that I might still enjoy it due to how weird it looked. But honestly, it was kind of hard to get through and the novelty of it wore off really quick. But hey, the French liked it.

This was Sondra Locke’s directorial debut and man, it was a complete misfire. So much so, that she never really bounced back from it and only had four total directing credits to her name, one of which was a television movie. She also got nominated for a Razzie for her performance in this, although she lost out to Madonna’s performance in Who’s That Girl?

I had read that this was made as a sort of allegory to her long relationship with Clint Eastwood, which was dissolving at the time. She saw herself as victimized and exploited and for whatever reason, this script spoke to her. I’m not entirely sure if she saw herself as the Ratboy character and Clint Eastwood as her character but this vapid Taylor Swift moment seems pretty petty and immature.

Locke also had Eastwood’s production company produce the film, so maybe that was her final “fuck you” to the guy.

Anyway, apart from Rick Baker’s solid effects used to create the Ratboy character, there is next to nothing about this film that is impressive. Hell, it even has a great cast with several talented character actors but they can’t come close to saving this, as it’s a complete dud from top-to-bottom. Granted, I do like Gerrit Graham in everything and I did enjoy him here, even if the film felt like a waste of his time.

This is just slow, drab, predictable and boring as fuck. There are a few amusing bits like the scene with John Witherspoon trying to hustle Ratboy but these moments are far and few between and it’s not worth sitting through the whole, dull picture to pull out the good bits. Besides, the clip is probably on YouTube.

I had hoped that there would be something worthwhile in this. Other than the few things I already mentioned, there isn’t.

The end.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: I honestly don’t know, as it’s so bizarre and unique.

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.

Film Review: House Party (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Music by: Lenny White, Marcus Miller
Cast: Kid ‘n Play (Christopher “Kid” Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin), Full Force (“Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., Brian “B-Fine” George), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Groove B. Chill (Gene “Groove” Allen, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), Kelly Jo Minter, John Witherspoon, Clifton Powell, George Clinton, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams

New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know why they named that boy that African name. Knowing he from Cleveland!” – Pop

I loved this film the moment I saw it for the first time when it debuted on premium cable, a year after it hit theaters. I had already been a Kid ‘n Play fan at that point but this immortalized them as cool, as far as I was concerned at twelve years-old.

House Party benefits from having an all-star cast before these actors were really all-star players.

Robin Harris is probably the biggest name and he was well-known for his stand-up comedy but he really had some great moments in this that brought him to a higher level. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after this film came out and didn’t get to reap whatever benefits would have came from the success this film had.

House Party also features Martin Lawrence, just on the cusp of his superstardom, as well as John Witherspoon, Tisha Campbell, Clifton Powell, Kelly Jo Minter and musicians George Clinton, Full Force and Groove B. Chill.

The picture was originally intended to be a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Jeff Townes and Will Smith) but Kid ‘n Play got the project. This could have been due to Smith’s big sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creating a conflict.

With high school teen sex comedies being all the rage in the 1980s, House Party follows suit but gives us a film from the African-American perspective. Ultimately, there isn’t much of a difference other than the added hip-hop flair, which by 1990 was a welcome change following a decade of high school comedies scored to new wave pop music.

The film was critically acclaimed. Roger Ebert loved the film stating, “House Party is a light, entertaining teen comedy with an infectious energy.”

House Party is a great movie for its type. It gives something fresh to its genre and helped pave the way for a lot of up and coming talent. Additionally, it opened doors for black filmmakers, who would really make an impact on cinema throughout the 1990s. House Party was an African-American comedy that really went mainstream and helped in creating a shift in American entertainment, at the time.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: House Party 2 and 3, as well as the other Kid ‘n Play film Class Act.