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  Meteor Man, The Let's Clean Up The Ghetto
Year: 1993
Director: Robert Townsend
Stars: Robert Townsend, Marla Gibbs, Eddie Griffin, Robert Guilliame, James Earl Jones, Roy Fegan, Cynthia Belgrave, Marilyn Coleman, Don Cheadle, Bobby McGee, Bill Cosby, Big Daddy Kane, Frank Gorshin, Sinbad, Nancy Wilson, Luther Vandross, Wallace Shawn
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jefferson Reed (Robert Townsend) doesn't know it yet, but out in deep space a couple of asteroids have collided to create a super-asteroid which will become highly significant in his life in a short time to come. Meanwhile, he must live in Washington D.C. as a supply teacher in an inner city school that is struggling to prevent the pupils from turning to crime and drugs, specifically in the machinations of a gang named the Golden Lords, led by the kingpin Simon (Roy Fegan), who may not be at the highest level of the gangster hierarchy. But Jeff has problems outside of not being able to persuade his classes that non-violence is the best way to get through life, as his love life is non-existent and nobody takes him seriously, not even his best friend Michael (Eddie Griffin)...

Robert Townsend would do a routine about the lack of black superheroes in pop culture in his stand-up comedy act, so he evidently decided to remedy that long before Marvel offered a movie about Black Panther, though his take was rather different. His Meteor Man was supposed to be a spoof, but then again he may have been intended to be taken seriously, or maybe both, it was difficult to tell when the film itself could not make up its mind, a sign that this had been a troubled production. Another sign was that plot points were raised only to be dropped like the proverbial hot potato, such as Jeff's love life (he never does find romance at any point in the story) or the detour into farming in a vacant lot, where we are not even told what he was growing.

So with all these problems apparent, was there any good to be taken from Meteor Man? As with its contemporary Blankman, this was most concerned with the issues facing the poorest African-American neighbourhoods, namely the sky-high crime rates, and Townsend, ever keen to raise the conscience of his community, sought to improve the mindset of the younger viewers of his film with a lesson to impart about doing the best for society and resisting the impulse to either break the law to get by or simply lose yourself in drugs. Basically he was hoping this film would be seen by an impressionable audience who would look back upon a superhero movie with a message they could identify as one they related to and helped them be a better person.

A lot to live up to, then, and it's none too clear if many of those targeted would be as impressed as intended for this was a big flop in its day, leaving Townsend retreating to lower profile work on television and occasional movies, a pity for he was a talented man with ambitions that were far from self-centred. His approach to the superhero genre was not exactly original outside of the race of the superhero, and Jeff was not really a Clark Kent who would transform into a Superman with a notably different personality when the call to action came, he was more or less the same person before the meteor struck him as he was afterwards. This made him easy for the bad guys (including a pre-fame Don Cheadle) to identify him, which in turn caused drawbacks for his friends and family (mother Marla Gibbs and father Robert Guillaume who encourage him every step of the way).

There were certainly some remarkable hairdos in this film, not just the gangsters' bleached blonde locks, but James Earl Jones showed up with a variety of ridiculously inappropriate wigs as a running gag as well, part of a cast that was markedly not given quite enough to do to justify their presence. They were presumably recruited to show their support for Townsend's positive teaching, and maybe let their hair down in a comedy (there's that hair again), but for those with the benefit of hindsight the fact that the day was saved by a magical Bill Cosby may prove an issue, not something the director could have foreseen (though he was associated with the comic for some time, helming his TV specials and even trying out his own sitcom spin on The Cosby Show). As for the actual superheroics, The Meteor Man picked and chose what the character was capable of from flying to X-ray vision, but never settled on one special ability which would give him a clear advantage when the bad guys tended to win over the public with their campaign of fear. This was better as a lesson to the kids than it was as a comedy (though it had its moments), yet even then there were mixed messages that could have been clearer if the production had been less chaotic; a noble failure, but not a waste of time. Music by Cliff Eidelman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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