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Meteor Man, The

Olive Films // PG // October 27, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted November 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Looking at the film in 2015, it's kind of amazing that The Meteor Man managed to get made. At the time of the film's release in 1993, successful live-action superhero adventures were basically limited to the long-canceled 1960s "Batman" TV show, the Christopher Reeve-starring Superman movies (which had just run their course with a much-derided fourth film), and Tim Burton's Batman and its sequel Batman Returns. Both of the movies in question were big-budget effects pictures made by major studios, and banked on superheroes that even the general public recognized. Robert Townsend may have been a household name thanks to his appearances on "The Tonight Show", but his two films (Hollywood Shuffle and The Five Heartbeats) were not exactly box-office phenomenons. Yet, The Meteor Man exists: a star-studded, $30m movie that almost spoofed a subject that films had hardly tackled seriously.

The opening credits, which feature a familiar swooping 3D title treatment, set the movie's tone as more in keeping with the Reeve Superman than Burton's brooding Batman. Townsend plays Jefferson Reed, a high school English teacher with faint aspirations of becoming a musician with his best friend and fellow teacher Michael (Eddie Griffin), and very little in the way of backbone. Jefferson, his family, and his entire neighborhood are terrorized by members of a ruthless gang known as the Golden Lords, easily identifiable by their black suits and gold ties that match their metallic hair dye. Jefferson's father (Robert Guillaume) is one of the few in the neighborhood willing to take a stand, holding steady when confronted by Goldilocks (Don Cheadle), one of the gang's higher-ranking members. Jefferson has no intention of getting involved, but when he is struck by a meteorite that gives him superpowers, his community turns to him to help rid their streets of the gang and their drug trafficking business.

On some levels, The Meteor Man is a surprisingly smart screenplay. Within the parameters of the movie's family-friendly PG-rating, the movie presents a sincere picture of a community affected by drug crime. Although Townsend softens the tone with exaggerated comedy (the gang's ranks include squads of ten and five-year-olds, and at one point the entire lineup terrorizes Jefferson with a leashed tiger in tow), he still manages to touch on the way young children are drawn into the fold, how easily the members of the Lords use fear to control the locals, and the no-win choice between standing up or keeping one's head down. Townsend also introduces an interesting wrinkle in giving Jefferson powers that wear off after time, and finds a way to incorporate this in the movie's final third that doesn't undercut the film's message about making the right choice as opposed to the easy one. Directorially, Townsend skews goofy, but are also tinges of surprising brutality: the scene of the meteor hitting Jefferson is straight out of a horror movie, and at one point, the Golden Lords pummel Jefferson with bullets in a drive-by. He's bulletproof, but it's still a drive-by.

At other times, The Meteor Man feels like a patchwork quilt, with a number of subplots and side stories that seem to have been hacked down in favor of a fairly thin central narrative. Jefferson's love of music is reduced to a concert he never makes it to and a brief chat about records with his neighbor Earnest (James Earl Jones). For a scene or two, Jefferson appears to be interested in another teacher at his school (Stephanie Williams), before discovering that she's already dating Malik (Sinbad), a plot point that is so lopsided that Malik is in the movie more than Stacy. There is no consistency in what exactly it is that Meteor Man's superpowers actually allow him to do. He has the expected Superman-style powers (laser eyes, has X-ray vision, flies, is bulletproof), but also has super-speed, can absorb the knowledge of a book for 30 seconds, can drain another person's meteor powers from them, sees through walls, learns to speak the same language as dogs, and even seems to summon a storm cloud to make it rain.

The two halves of The Meteor Man make for a toss-up between good and bad, but Townsend pushes the movie over the finish line with an incredible ensemble cast. In addition to Townsend, Griffin, Cheadle, Jones, Sinbad, and Guillaume, the film also boasts Marla Gibbs, Big Daddy Kane, Luther Vandross, Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Lela Rochon, John Witherspoon, Wallace Shawn, Biz Markie, Naughty By Nature, Another Bad Creation, and even an uncredited Chris Tucker in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance as a mall MC (look for him behind Griffin when you can't hear his instantly-recognizable voice). The movie also drops in Frank Gorshin of the aforementioned "Batman" TV show as an emphatic mobster, and has Roy Fegan as Simon, chief of the Golden Lords, giving a performance as comedically entertaining as Townsend's. (The movie also features an extended cameo by Bill Cosby as a bum, which has recently become more uncomfortable than fun.) The Meteor Man is a broad movie, so the cast's efforts are less about great performances as they are about having fun, but the cumulative result is that the movie feels like a big, warm party. Meteor Man may not be a very well-defined hero in the technical sense, a man with seemingly unlimited range in manipulating his powers and no weaknesses aside from those powers' natural disappearance, but the movie sells him effectively as a superhero for a single community, a man of the people. He's earnest, upstanding, and sweet -- a small-scale superman for his friends and family.

The Blu-ray
Olive recreates the same art from The Meteor Man's DVD release for their Blu-ray, but the saturation has been turned down so drastically, it creates an optical illusion, as if the art has been left in a sunny video store window for too long. The single-disc release comes in a boxy Infiniti Blu-ray case, and there is a postcard inside that owners can send in to receive Olive's catalog.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 1080p AVC and with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack, The Meteor Man soars modestly in HD. In many scenes, there is a clarity befitting a brand new remaster, while in others, details get a bit murkier and less-defined. Colors appear accurate (no teal and orange revisionism), and grain is healthy, with minimal print damage. The main quibble is not the disc itself but the methods used to make the movie: the film contains a number of optical effects which soften the picture. Sound is appropriately bold and well-balanced, with the movie's lively soundtrack and action sequences on hand to provide some surround action. Dialogue sounds clean and clear, but as with most if not all Olive releases, no subtitles or captions are provided.

The Extras
An original theatrical ttailer is the only inclusion.

The Meteor Man is a bit dated, a bit muddled, and very goofy, but for families, it should hold up as a surprisingly warm and inviting superhero adventure. The Blu-ray offers a strong presentation to replace MGM's long-OOP DVD. Recommended.

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