There’s a universe dividing actor-director-writer Robert Townsend’s debut, “Hollywood Shuffle,” and “The Meteor Man.” The seemingly hip, irreverent and street-savvy talent has evolved into a kinder, gentler, rather-too-polite storyteller who is oddly out of step with the times. This allegorical fantasy is a cute skit expanded out of all proportion for the big screen.
The fairy-tale nature of “The Meteor Man” flies in the face of contemporary sensibilities, particularly those of a young, niche audience. With a cast of familiar television names, it feels dangerously like sitcom. Commercial theatrical prospects are decidedly brief and slim, with foreign prospects providing an even less rosy picture.
Set in Washington, D.C., yarn centers around schoolteacher and aspiring musician Jefferson Reed (Townsend). An advocate of nonviolence and flight in the face of danger, he is only marginally more timid than his family and neighbors. The old generation, however, at least forms an organization to keep the local gang at bay.
The peroxided Golden Lords are obviously a sore for eyesight. One evening, Jeff runs afoul of them and just barely escapes their clutches. Then the most magical thing occurs. Emerging from his hiding place, he walks into the path of a falling meteor fragment. When he awakes, doctors are perplexed to explain how he survived seemingly intact and healthy.
Even stranger is the young man’s realization that he possesses some familiar, exotic superpowers. In addition to X-ray eyes, super strength and the ability to fly, he can also memorize a book’s contents by touch and can communicate in animal language. So, ready or not, the neighbors enlist him into service as the man to clean up the streets in a uniform lovingly sewn together by his mother.
The idea of a street-smart, though awkward, superhuman crimefighter ought to have been a rich mine from which to excavate laughs. But Townsend seems strangely out of place in this milieu. His characters are obvious stereotypes culled from two decades of television viewing. This provides a kind of safety net, which removes any sense of danger, immediacy or semblance of reality from the proceedings.
The broad picture is truly baffling. “The Meteor Man” is a comedy with a true paucity of humor, intentional or otherwise. It is neither social satire nor broad farce. Rather it is a sweet, earnest effort that would pass muster as a citizenship class essay.
Given access to higher profile talent both in front of and behind the camera, Townsend shows little maturation as a filmmaker. Both his use of actors and his staging of action are flat and mundane. It is far too great a stumbling block to overcome with charm, a smile and good intentions.
“The Meteor Man” may be coming to a theater near you, but it will be streaking right on pretty darn quick.