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DOWNTOWN (director: Richard Benjamin; screenwriter: Nat Mauldin; cinematographer: Richard H. Kline; editor: Jacqueline Cambas/Brian Chambers; music: Alan Silvestri; cast: Anthony Edwards (Alex Kearney), Forest Whitaker (Dennis Curren), Penelope Ann Miller (Lori Mitchell), Joe Pantoliano (White), David Clennon (Jerome Sweet), Art Evans (Henry Coleman), Rick Aiello (Mickey Witlin), Kimberly Scott (Christine Curren), Wanda De Jesus (Luisa Diaz), Ryan McWhorter (Ephraim Cain), Glenn Plummer (Valentine), Ron Taylor (Bruce), Roger Aaron Brown (Lt. Sam Parral), Ron Canada (Lowell Harris), Frank McCarthy (Inspector Ben Glass); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Charles H. Maguire; 20th Century- Fox; 1990)
“About as much fun as having your car stolen.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sorry-assed urban cop film ineptly directed by fish-out-of-water actor Richard Benjamin (“My Favorite Year”/”City Heat”/”Mermaids”), who gears it to the lowest common denominator in entertainment and succeeds at hitting a fairly low level. It teases us with a poorly conceived mix of dumb broad comedy, weak black and white culture jokes, a strained melodrama, gratuitous violence and the familiar clich√© buddie movie theme of opposites learning to bond. It has the awful look of a loser test pilot for a TV series. Not only is the director clueless of the black slum, but so is writer Nat Mauldin. It’s just another disposable comedy from Hollywood that puts out its phony version of the slum to try to mine comedy, as it trots out contrasts between black rap music and white surfer music (Beach Boys) and lays on us a series of unfunny jokes about a white country bumpkin cop trying to make it in the crime-ridden black ghetto. In its ignorant script, it unintentionally gives us a racist take on the slums (the black slums are breeding grounds for beasts and the white suburbs are so genteel). The film was about as much fun as having your car stolen.

Rookie cop Alex Kearney (Anthony Edwards) is a twit. He has it easy working in the wealthy crime free white suburbs of Philadelphia known as the Main Line, where top equipment such as computers are standard and working conditions are first-class. When Alex tries to ticket leading citizen and major contributor to police causes Jerome Sweet (David Clennon) for traffic violations, his irate superior gives him a choice of accepting a suspension or transfer to the crime-ridden innercity black ghetto of Diamond Street. Alex takes the transfer and arrives at the moment there’s a shootout in the precinct between the cops and the bad guys. Veteran black cop, Sgt. Dennis Curren (Forest Whitaker), uses his street smarts to overtake the gang. After that incident, Alex is assigned to Dennis and tags along to the field with him. After barging in uninvited to a domestic dispute while his partner answers another call, Alex is stripped nude (except for badge and gun) by a large Hispanic junkie family. Later Alex finds his car stripped clean by junkies that he parked in front of the precinct, and at home his yuppie girlfriend (Penelope Ann Miller) urges him to return to law school.

Needing a ride to work, Alex gets his former car partner in the suburbs Mick (Rick Aiello) to give him a lift. On the way home, Mick spots a stolen Mercedes and while apprehending without backup the two black thieves, a third white perp pretends to be a vic and gets the jump on the surprised cop and slits his throat.

The nervy, naive and annoyingly over affable Alex insists on tagging along with the bitter streetwise Dennis to catch the killer of his friend, and ingratiates himself onto his partner’s family and soon talks his way into going with Dennis on the case after the always cursing precinct captain (Art Evans) assigned him to desk duty to keep him out of harm’s way.

Surprise! Surprise! Sweet is the head of the stolen car ring. Puppy dog Alex is happy to learn the ropes from Dennis and be a real cop, and will learn from him not to always rigidly go by the book and that Dennis doesn’t resent him because he’s white but because he can’t get over losing his last partner and just cares too much to let anybody else get close again. Alex, as expected by the film’s unexciting rote formulaic ways, redeems himself by showing that this candy-ass white boy from the ‘burbs can now function as a downtown cop as he heroically helps break up the car theft ring by shredding one of the villains.

Even the Beach Boy music sounds strained in this crass uptown film about downtown.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”