Movie Review: The Meteor Man (1993)
The Meteor Man (1993)
Director: Robert Townsend
Cast: Robert Townsend, Marla Gibbs, Eddie Griffin
Synopsis: A mild-mannered inner city teacher takes on the gangs that are ruining his neighbourhood when he receives super powers from a meteor fragment.
Although there’s no faulting multi-hyphenate Robert Townsend’s intention of using The Meteor Man as a platform from which to espouse the need for ordinary people to play a part in combating the criminal element that blights urban neighbourhoods, you have to question the method by which he delivers that message. Not only is The Meteor Man woefully thin on laughs, it takes place in a largely set-bound world that bears little resemblance to our own, a world in which the members of a street gang wear the homogeneous uniform and hairstyle of some quasi-military SF cult, and the police are nowhere to be seen, it’s hardly an environment with which its early-90s target audience would really be able to identify
Townsend is Jefferson Reed, a timid schoolteacher who firmly believes that it’s better to run from danger than to risk harm by facing it. It’s a philosophy that borders on cowardice – he’s willing to stand back and observe when his ageing father (Robert Guillaume – The Lion King, 13th Child) takes on some street punks hassling a passer-by – but which also prevents him from crossing the path of The Golden Lords, a highly organised crime syndicate whose members are recognisable by their black uniforms and dyed-blonde hair. However, one night, Jefferson is struck by a meteor fragment which, rather than killing him, endows him with a whole host of superhuman powers. Not only does he discover that bullets bounce harmlessly off his frail frame, but the meteor has also given him the ability to absorb the entire contents of a book and inherit any skills within (for 30 seconds), see through walls and clothes (but not underwear – kiddies might be watching!), and even converse with his pooch.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and Jefferson soon comes under pressure from his family and close friends to assume the identity of a superhero in order to tackle the criminal activity of the Golden Lords, who are making everyone’s life a misery. Although intimidated by his other-worldly powers – his fear of heights initially prevents him from flying higher than five feet – Jefferson is also emboldened, but his crime-busting exploits result in a price being placed on his head by the Golden Lords.
It’s not only the setting that diminishes the strength of the positive message Townsend’s trying to convey; by cramming as many black celebrities into the picture he distances it even further from its message, and devotes too much screen time to extraneous characters who do little other than to contribute to the impression that those who shun a criminal lifestyle are as generic as those who do. Jefferson’s personal odyssey follows a familiar path, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but Townsend adds few original touches to the journey. Jefferson’s powers begin to fade – as they must if he’s to undergo any kind of personal epiphany – which should make for an intriguing final confrontation with Simon (Roy Fegan – House Party 3), the leader of The Golden Lords, after a High Noon-style plea for help from his neighbours falls on deaf ears. Unfortunately, Townsend simply doesn’t know when to call it a day, and what should be an uplifting finale becomes a tiresomely protracted test of the audience’s endurance.
(Reviewed 23rd May 2016)
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