Imagine Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” stripped of its politics, its wit, its humanity, and its craft, and that only gets halfway down the bottom of the barrel scraped by “Officer Downe,” a hyper-aggressive and thoroughly repugnant piece of comic-book juvenalia. Based on Joe Casey and Chris Burnham’s comic, and scripted by Casey, this ultra-violent tour of L.A.’s criminal underground reps the feature directorial debut of M. Shawn Crahan, co-founder of the popular heavy metal outfit Slipknot. Fans of the ’Knot’s horror-clown aesthetic may have no trouble withstanding this bruising assault on the senses, but Crahan’s frenetic mélange of law-and-order fantasy, Big Boss battles, and tough-guy posturing will be a challenge to anyone else. Magnet’s day-and-date release rightly assumes better prospects on VOD than in theaters, leaving Crahan’s nu-metal niche to thrash up the cash.
In the opening narration, the eponymous Officer Downe (Kim Coates) laments Los Angeles as a “city gone to hell” and vows to keep coming back “as many times as it takes to scrub [it] of its filth.” Such sentiments sound conspicuously close to those expressed by Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” who longed “for a real rain to come and wipe the scum off the streets.” But in “Taxi Driver,” Bickle is treated as a roving sociopath who sees the world through a narrow filter; Officer Downe, by contrast, is a civil servant with the latitude and the firepower to lay waste to every miscreant who crosses his path.
The reason Downe can keep coming back to save his city is that he’s technically dead, a zombie cop who’s constantly revivified by telekinetic power. Looking like a mustachioed relic from a ’70s cop show, Downe is a Frankenstein’s monster that the LAPD deliberately sets on the rampage, armed with the latest in state-of-the-art military hardware. When fresh-faced rookie cop Gable (Tyler Ross) gets assigned to Downe, the job is less a partnership than clean-up duty, which means either scooping up the bad guys in a melee or bringing Downe back to an underground lab for resurrection.
In a criminal underworld stocked with cut-rate Batman super-villains, Downe’s chief adversaries are the Fortune 500, a triad of masked puppetmasters who convene in a boardroom with the heads of their victims mounted on the walls. After Downe wipes out one of their drug operations, the Fortune 500 recruit Zen Master Flash (Sona Eyambe) to counter with an army of sword-bearing ninjas. Downe also has to deal with Mother Supreme (Meadow Williams) and the Guardian Angel covenant, a weird death cult of heavily armed nuns. There’s no explanation of who they are or what they want; they’re just sexy nuns with guns.
Co-produced by Mark Neveldine, who also handles second unit direction, “Officer Downe” aims for the giddy, amplified cartoonishness of Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s “Crank” movies, to the point where even a designer drug is dubbed “super-crank” in homage. Though Coates, a character actor with many crime shows and movies to his name, is ideally cast as Downe, the film doesn’t have a charismatic Jason Statham type to keep the tone light, and it isn’t inclined toward silliness or self-deprecation. Crahan’s hard-driving style as Slipknot’s percussionist carries over to his direction, which pummels the audience with masculine bravado. There are even two sex scenes with an on-screen “Orgasm Counter” that serve no purpose other than to underline Downe’s majestic power.
“Officer Downe” casts a shadow over the privately funded operation that supports Downe’s vigilante mission, but not to the point where it questions the righteousness of his cause. Where “RoboCop” strongly critiqued corporate intrusion in protecting and serving the public, with Peter Weller’s humanity poking through his mechanized shell, “Officer Downe” doesn’t flinch at the law-and-order brutality of a zombie cop doing the job that mere mortals are too weak to accomplish. It turns up the volume and watches the world burn.