Denzel Washington in The Mighty Quinn (1989)


(director: Carl Schenkel; screenwriter: from the novel ”Finding Maubee” by A.H.Z. Carr/Hampton Fancher; cinematographer: Jacques Steyn; editor: John Jympson; music: Anne Dudley; cast: Denzel Washington (Xavier Quinn), Robert Townsend (Maubee), James Fox (Thomas Elgin), Mimi Rogers (Hadley Elgin), M. Emmet Walsh (Miller), Sheryl Lee Ralph (Lola Quinn), Esther Rolle (Ubu Pearl), Norman Beaton (Governor Chalk), Alex Colon Jose Patina), David McFarlane (Henry Quinn), Keye Luke (Dr. Raj), Bobby Ghisays (Donald Pater), Tyra Ferrell (Isola), Rita Marley (Wedding Singers and Band), Bernie McInerney (Dr. Stuhlberg); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sandy Lieberson/Marion Hunt/Ed Elbert; MGM; 1989)
“Pleasing comical murder mystery that takes place on a small Caribbean island.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Swiss-born Carl Schenkel (“Tarzan and the Lost City”) directs this pleasing comical murder mystery that takes place on a small Caribbean island (filmed on the northeastern coast of Jamaica). The theme song is a reggae-induced version of Bob Dylan’s The Mighty Quinn, which gets played a few times during the film. The MightyQuinn is based on the novel ”Finding Maubee” by A.H.Z. Carr and is written by Hampton Fancher (“Blade Runner”). The inane bizarre plot is blown away by the colorful island characters who sing reggae and act joyfully offbeat (it includes a pipe smoking witch, one of the singing daughters of Bob Marley, and plenty of sultry black ladies). These characters in all their Jamaican patois give the entertaining film an energized pulse. It’s one of the least known of Denzel Washington’s films, but he gives one of his best acting performances. In Glory, which came out in the same year, Washington won Best Supporting actor and became recognized as the new Sidney Poitier.

A rich American businessman, Donald Pater, is murdered and the independent-minded chief of police, Xavier Quinn (Denzel Washington), investigates. White resort owner and local fixer Thomas Elgin (James Foxx) hinders the investigation, as he puts the blame on the local legendary carefree character Maubee (Robert Townsend), a childhood friend of Quinn’s, who is a slacker and womanizer. It seems the hotel owner targets Maubee because his seductive wife Hadley (Mimi Rogers) might have become too chummy with Maubee. The resort owner wants an immediate arrest so tourism won’t be affected, and the cowardly black governor (Norman Beaton) puts the pressure on Quinn to play ball with the white businessman and arrest Maubee or else.

The mystery deepens when an autopsy performed by Dr. Raj (Keye Luke) indicates the cause of death was a snake bite and not decapitation. Things get dicey when the slovenly and amiable but menacing American Fred Miller (M. Emmet Walsh) and an armed Jose Patina (Alex Colon) show up, and it becomes apparent they are searching for a large sum of money. Quinn refuses to arrest his friend, and in the end finds a CIA connection to the murder of Pater–a shady wheeler-dealer. Quinn also has time during the investigation to return to his native roots, which seems to be more the film’s aim than in solving the murder case.