(Clickbaity title. I know.)
It’s March now, and I’m still confused as to how 2016 has decided to manifest itself. From Trump becoming the maestro of the Silent Majority to the Blackest Black History Month in recent memory, it’s a lot to take in. Which is why I spend a lot of my time now in front of a TV trying to understand things that at least make more sense.
Speaking of which…
I currently have Showtime (not news to those of you who listen to the podcast) and stumbled upon a fun little gem: 1997’s Metro, starring Eddie Murphy. Off the boot [Ed note: do people say this?], this ditty gets points because it’s set in SF and it also has Michael Rappaport. And Eddie has those weird mini twists that were all the rage back in the ‘90s. Remember those?
The plot itself revolves around Scott Roper (Murphy), a storied negotiator with SFPD. In a domino chain of events, Roper becomes embroiled in a vendetta with a petty jewel thief who happens to be a sociopath. From saving a damsel in distress to truly fucking up downtown SF (shout out to downtown) [Ed note: why? fuck downtown SF], this movie puts you through the ringer as Roper tries to make things right. This is by no means an original film. In fact, it’s an incredibly conventional one. But what made me want to write about it is that it does well with what it provides — it’s an Eddie Murphy movie that’s off the beaten path in terms of the broader scope of his career.
Let me explain.
As Scott, Eddie is funny, but not the overtly comedic Eddie that we as audiences were used to seeing (Beverly Hills Cop 3 was released 3 years before, The Nutty Professor a year before, and Mulan would be released one year after Metro.)
In a way, this is refreshing, because that Eddie, from the constant wisecracking to the borderline coonery, was quickly becoming the central force of his brand. Yet in Metro, Eddie leans much more into the dramatic side of things. Comedy is a vehicle for plot points, and not the point itself. Ironically, I think the marketing team for Metro weren’t keyed into this, as the main poster for Metro suggests the funny-jokey Eddie previously mentioned.
This is interesting because much of the film’s worth lives in that dramatic space. As Metro bounces between buddy cop story, large set piece action film, and semi-love arc, Eddie is able to emote and move through scenes without belting out his trademark laugh. Again, I think this is super interesting and kinda rare given this turning point in his career at this time. I personally believe this single performance is a glimpse into what other work he could’ve done that would’ve been more Bad Boys (1, not 2.) than Beverly Hills Cop*. It’s a great, albeit small, counterpoint to the comedic continuity of his career. Imagine what great things he could’ve done if he hadn’t become a caricature of his own characters, parading around in a cemetery of his own celebrity?
I know. That’s kinda harsh.
But let’s be real — Eddie fell all the way the fuck off and he at least partially has himself to blame. Additionally, I think it’s part of the trap of being a “post-racial” movie star; by explicitly (or implicitly) relinquishing your racial identity for crossover appeal, you then box yourself within a mainstream expectation of who and what you can do, relying on tropes of respectability to further your success (part of the reason why I’m shaky about Kevin Hart’s meteoric rise to fame as of late.)
Eddie’s washedness aside, Metro works best as a conventional action film that you don’t think too much about. Because, when you begin to pry at its edges, things start to make less sense. Chief among them is its narrative tempo issue. Like a runner that starts off strong but has little kick near the finish line, this film has momentum but somehow loses it at the most crucial moments. This is mainly because the villain is introduced incredibly early (with an awesome reference to another SF film, Basic Instinct).
Naturally, with the lack of mystery about this guy, the film then has to build a case (pun intended) for why you should keep watching. This buildup is pretty good, and leads to an extended hostage situation and chase scene through SF. While critics of yesteryear questioned the plausibility of its physics, you can’t deny that it’s fun as hell to watch. However, with the resolution of this sequence we have a serious drop off in reasons to keep watching. The momentum that the chase scene (and build up to this confrontation) all feels…credible and believable. The final act, in contrast, felt like a film trying to wrap itself up because it has to. From the villain’s implausible prison sentence to the inevitable setup of “save the girl,” Metro fails to provide the same pathos and intensity that it promises in its earlier scenes.
While many action films suffer from this (see: the importance of action sequences overwhelming the need for a veritable and relevant narrative), it’s interesting that Metro still manages to drop the ball in spite of all the time it invests in characters and relationships (or at least tries to). If anything, I think, as I’ve said just before, it’s the struggle of the genre at large. Action films, especially in more recent times, are focused on spectacle (car chases, fight sequences, explosions, etc). In most of these cases, when spectacle becomes the most important piece of the film, other things that we often require from other genres like plot, tempo, and general coherence and believability can be lost.
But that’s an essay for another day, entirely.
For now, just know that Metro exists. And it’s worth watching, if only for that chase scene and a look at Eddie doing something a bit different. And, it was directed by a black man (who would later direct Coach Carter, Save The Last Dance, and Ben Carson’s TV movie Gifted Hands. Yes, you just read that list right.)
*Note, upon further editing, I have to say that Eddie did some great lowkey dramatic work in Boomerang. But, that film was also definitely a bro-love story dressed up as a romcom and treatise on the secret love lives of black professionals. Fight me.
The Original Homeboy with a Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. @dapisdope