Meteor Man (1993) / Fantasy-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for violence (appealed from an original PG-13 rating)
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Robert Townsend, Roy Fegan, Eddie Griffin, Don Cheadle, James Earl Jones, Marla Gibbs, Bill Cosby, Robert Guillaume, Bobby McGee, Big Daddy Kane, Frank Gorshin, Sinbad, Luther Vandross, Another Bad Creation, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Jenifer Lewis, Naughty By Nature, Cypress Hill, Beverly Johnson, Lela Rochon, Wallace Shawn, John Witherspoon, Faizon Love (cameo), Biz Markie (cameo)
Director: Robert Townsend
Screenplay: Robert Townsend
I like films about superheroes. I like Robert Townsend (A Soldier's Story, American Flyers). A film by Robert Townsend about superheroes would seem like it couldn't miss with me. It does -- and by a lot.
Meteor Man was created with good intentions, but as they say, the road to Hell is paved with them. "Hell" in this case meaning having to sit and view this movie.
Townsend wanted to craft a socially-aware anti-street gang film, with a superhero coming in to save the day for the good folks of his neighborhood. It's a noble endeavor, and worthy of some admiration, but Townsend made a mistake by writing this film himself.
Townsend casts himself in the starring role as mild-mannered Washington D.C. school teacher Jefferson Reed, whose street where he lives has been plagued of late by a vicious street gang peddling their dope. He wants to fight back, but he is also overcome by fear himself. One night a green and glowing meteorite comes crashing down on him, sending him to the hospital with sever injuries. The injuries are miraculously gone the next day, and he even learns he has gained some sort of powers, such as the ability to fly, shoot lasers, see through things, and absorb knowledge through touch. He also is impervious to things, which makes him take up the mantle of saving his neighborhood, donning the costume of a superhero called Meteor Man to scare the crap out of the gang that is menacing his community.
What Meteor Man really lacks is a sense of credibility. Out in the streets of the inner city, street cred means all when it comes to the ability to preach to people that won't listen to anyone else. It's true that Townsend is African-American, and a respected one at that, known for being outspoken against the way African-Americans have been portrayed in films and on television. In fact, his big breakthrough, Hollywood Shuffle, is all about the frustrations of not being able to make it in show business without accepting roles that make a mockery of his own race.
While Townsend certainly knows about the problems of street gangs and how they instill fear in decent, hardworking people in the inner city, he isn't able to create an inner city world that seems like anything remotely resembling reality. The menacing street gang he envisions all dye their hair blonde and call themselves the Golden Lords, but none of the Lords seem to have any edge that would lead you to think they are hardened criminals. In fact, they seem like they stepped out of a cartoon.
Unfortunately, Townsend doesn't have an ear for the lingo of the street, and he also doesn't seem to have an eye for the look of the street or the gangs that inhabit them either. The streets that are overrun by the street gang in his film looks more like a movie set than any street I've ever seen. The people that live on the street feel more like charismatic entertainers than real people. There's just nothing in the film that has the feel of anything anyone could possibly relate to as a slice of reality.
If Townsend had at least handed over his script to someone with a little more of a finger on the pulse of the real problems, and a stronger gift for modern street-savvy dialogue, it would have probably gone a long way to making Meteor Man a much more credible movie to youngsters that would benefit from the anti-gang message of the film. By not doing so, unfortunately, people laugh at it, because it comes across as soft, silly, and stupid. It makes being a good person seem very un-cool, and even "cool" people like rappers Big Daddy Kane, Naughty By Nature, and Cypress Hill can't make it any cooler. In fact, they probably lose coolness points in the eyes of their fans for even being in a film this corny.
However, even if the film were to have been bolstered by credible vernacular, realistic portrayals of gangs, and filming on location in a real neighborhood, there is also one central problem that just can't be overcome: it's own misguided message. The problem with Townsend's anti-violence message is that it actually is pro-violence, although he clearly didn't intend it to be so. All solutions in the film come through acts of violence, whether perpetrated by Meteor Man himself, the "good guys" he is coming to the aid of, or the other gangs that move in to try to save the day. If you come to beat people up, you will be beaten back. If you come to shoot people, someone is going to shoot you. Basically, Townsend has created a situation where his solution to fighting gangs is to form your own gang to fight them.
I know what Townsend was trying to do here. He was trying to reach out to children and say, "Hey kids, I'm Meteor Man and I'm a good guy. Be a good person so you can be more like me.". Unfortunately, by making a superhero so dopey in a film this trite, it only makes being the good guy the un-cool thing to be. It's also not a funny thing to be either, judging by the lack of quality gags.
I think superhero films are cool. I think Robert Townsend is cool. How could a superhero film by Robert Townsend be this lame?
©2006 Vince Leo