“Officer Downe” (2016): Cruel & Unusual Punishment
As a guy who still listens to Korn, maybe it’s hypocritical to say this, but: Officer Downe certainly plays like something directed by a member of Slipknot. Like Korn, they stood at the forefront of the whole “nu-metal” movement (huh-huh, he said “movement”) that most viewed as regrettable at best, and abominable at worst.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Downe is the type of film that coasts on the basest of base sensibilities, and the titular pun is considered the height of cleverness (huh-huh, he said “titular”).
While the Los Angeles Times likens this to a Deadpool surrogate, the difference lies in the quickfire meta nature of that film, which seldom paused to elaborate on its in-jokes and pop-culture references. While not the glistening model of vulgar perfection the fanbros made it out to be, it was nonetheless an entertaining effort that subsisted on a wild, irreverent energy and undeniable sense of fun. Its mind may have been in a smart-assed gutter of its own design, but the execution was unique. And the charisma and comedic flexibility of Ryan Reynolds didn’t hurt matters.
By comparison, Downe is so barren in creativity that it repeats the same joke twice: someone makes a reference to Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon character; someone else doesn’t “get it”; someone else, exasperated, explains it; and, finally, someone else says, “I can’t believe you don’t get that.” (For what it’s worth, the second joke – which follows the exact same format – is in reference to Boris Karloff as the creature in Frankenstein). Something else so nice they did it twice: an “Orgasm Count” that appears at the bottom of the screen, a bell ringing in tandem with a busty blonde’s moans.
When repetition is the name of the game – and your film isn’t Run Lola Run – it’s not an encouraging sign.
Downe (Kim Coates) is an undead cop with a bland backstory, seemingly indestructible and powered by – wait for it – a gaggle of telekinetic folks hooked up to some machinery in a dingy lab below LAPD HQ. A trio of animal-masked villains known as the “Fortune 500” (where are the other 497?) want Downe taken out of the picture, and solicit Zen Master Flash (Sona Eyambe) and his BDSM-costumed ninja army to assist. Meanwhile, a group of villains in nuns’ habits, led by Mother Supreme (Meadow Williams), brandish assault rifles and provide crucial distraction from the main plot.
Did I mention that one of the big visual gags is Zen Master Flash’s foreign-overdubbed dialog? At one point he says, “fuck these subtitles” (because ain’t nobody got time to read a movie)!
It’s been a long time since the golden age of Nunsploitation and Kung Fu rip-offs, and even longer since Ken Russell unleashed The Devils upon an unsuspecting world and Bruce Lee karate-chopped the shit out of bad guys in iconic, poetic fashion (I still feel like the best joke to reference the latter comes during the awkward “date” scene in 1976’s The Tenant). What I’m saying is, all of these tropes are very tired, and even harder to pull off (huh-huh) in creative fashion these days, with the lowliest hacks desperately trying to bleed profit from surface-level nostalgia for cinematic sleaze.
Downe is far too self-conscious, winking its smug dead eye at us for 90 exhausting minutes, to come across as anything more than a lethargic action machine, shamelessly ripping limbs of story and character from Robocop, but more so from failed hybrid buddy comedies like Dead Heat and lousy “throwback” stuff like Hobo with a Shotgun. It’s more about what looks cool than creating something that will endure past that.
There’s violence galore (of the lazy CG-blood-spatter variety), and the action is edited with such mind-numbing gracelessness that’s it’s often hard to figure out who’s getting splattered (not that it matters). The visuals in general are abrasive, relying on harsh lighting and shaky-cam to make things as aesthetically intolerable as possible. What’s even worse is how the action, when it bothers to be coherent, is so unimaginatively conceived: there’s a sequence where our stoic hero, literally surrounded by killer nuns, pivots in a 360, taking each one out, to the sound of a pinball “high score” bell. Ditto a scene where Downe, captured and robbed of his powers by ZMF, is hung up to endure an endless beating at the hands of prisoners at some supermax facility.
Coates has shown up in genre fare like Silent Hill and Resident Evil: Afterlife, and was a fan favorite on Sons of Anarchy. He’s a capable actor who manifests the stiff (huh-huh) automaton frame of Downe, but Joe Casey’s underachieving dialog renders a string of one-liners flat and humorless. By comparison, Karl Urban’s subtle physical acting and grizzled deadpan demeanor in Dredd created a character that emerged as sympathetic and multi-dimensional. The female supporting cast, including Lauren Velez (Dexter), Alison Lohman (Drag Me to Hell), and Lindsay Pulsipher (The Rambler) attempts to mine toughness from brash dialog and heavy firepower, but ultimately come off as misbegotten ciphers in a boys-only clubhouse.
There is one inspired moment: confronting Mother Supreme, Downe blasts away at one of her hench-nuns with such “badass” veracity that it causes them to ascend into “heaven”; only in this film, heaven is a foreboding vortex (complete with lightning bolts). It may not be Get Out, but Officer Downe comes pretty goddamn close to being my own personal Sunken Place.
Jonny Numb’s Letterboxd Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Officer Downe is available on DVD & Blu-ray from Magnet Releasing.