“The L.A. Riot Spectacular” is a comedy that’s vulgar, disturbing, distasteful and violent, but so is injustice and civil unrest. T.K. Carter plays Rodney King with a hustler brio in a film so eager to be an equal-opportunity offender it will put off even adventurous distributors. But cable outlets should leap at it.
It was in March of 1991 that King was beaten by police, whose actions were caught on videotape. The cops were subsequently tried and exonerated, setting off violence that left 55 dead, 2,000 injured and more than $1 billion in property damage. Whether auds — especially in Los Angeles — will find the movie funny, hateful or just a little tardy, may depend whether they think anything has changed since the early ’90s.
The cops, including officers Powell and Koon (Emilio Estevez and Christopher McDonald) are betting on whether the driver of the car they’re pursing will be black, Mexican or Asian (“Always bet on black,” says Powell). “Let the beating commence,” says King, his life story failing to sway the sentiments of the baton-wielding officers.
“A textbook example of policing,” says Chief Gates (Ronny Cox) of the King arrest, even as he prepares to scapegoat Powell and Koon and keep the media off his tail.
“The L.A. Riot Spectacular,” like a live-action “South Park,” doesn’t care how far it goes, but always seems to have a grain of truth behind its humor. It’s calculatedly harsh that a besieged Asian business would be called “Mr. Kim’s Riquor” or a black church “Cracker Hatin’ Ministries,” but the names reflect the real biases and resentment that fueled the 1992 riots. Members of the Crips and Bloods, lining up over an open grave and falling in, two by two after they shoot each other, may be a burlesque, but the sense of pointless waste isn’t irrelevant.
Portrayal of a sort of parasite class may be the most painful (if often one of the funnier) part of the film: Anne-Marie Johnson and David Rasche play a pair of “Entertainment Tonight”-type correspondents who urge rioters into more camera-friendly mayhem, ignore any injustice that isn’t on tape and generally — as many observers then noted of the media — throw gas on the fire. Similarly, Charles Durning’s turn as lawyer Steve Lerman also won’t be doing much for the image of the legal profession.
Still, pic feels overlong because once it’s established that this is going to be a tasteless, if occasionally hilarious, exercise in social criticism, the movie needs to constantly accelerate the level of hilarity, which is impossible to do.
Acting is deliberately over the top, and tech aspects purposely approximate the non-pro look of such guerrilla video as the King beating itself.