Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Detroit 9000

By Marc Savlov

JULY 26, 1999: 

D: Arthur Marks; with Hari Rhodes, Alex Rocco, Sally Baker, Rudy Challenger, Scatman Crothers, Herb Jefferson Jr. (R, 106 min.)

Waiter, there's a jive-ass honky mofo in my soup. Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder distribution group unleashes on the world yet another exuberantly asinine throwback, this time in his beloved blaxploitation genre. First released in 1973 and directed by a man who would later move on to the simple pleasures of Starsky and Hutch, this is grade-A prime silliness, a gooey dollop of cops and robbers Velveeta that manages to make Rudy Ray Moore's Avenging Disco Godfather look like an auteur-drivenmasterpiece by comparison. When a fundraising ball held by black gubernatorial challenger Clayton (the aptly named Challenger) is raided by a band of ski-masked hoods toting both CAR-15s and Luger pistols (how's that for diversity?), white Detroit Police Department Lt. Danny Barrett (Rocco) is teamed with black, ex-football hero Sgt. Jesse Williams (Rhodes) to crack the seemingly uncrackable case. Tossed together in the early Seventies racial hotbed of department politics, the pair have little to go on except a couple of leads from local pimpdaddy Ferdy (Jefferson Jr.) and his collegiate hootchie mama Ethel (Baker), an old acquaintance of Jesse's from back in the day. In between tracking down leads, the gruff, no-nonsense Bassett visits his invalid, racial-epithet-spewing wife in the State Asylum while making time with the local madam and her girls on the side. Williams, the family man of the pair, is content to get it on for tax-free with his girlfriend, a local university professor who puts the "ooh!" in "hootchie" when she's not out making sure that young minds aren't being wasted. Department politics, racial boundaries, and the ever-present danger of The Maaan are all over this kitschy slice of grooviness, but more important than its goofball appeal, the film works as a functioning bit of Seventies politicana. Were things really this godawfully tense back in the day? Don't ask me, I was only seven years old, but besides the deliciously bad direction (at one point director Marks wrangles a POV shot from between the tufted ears of a DPD equestrian mounted unit), Detroit 9000 is a howler from start to finish. Reams of cleverly ridiculous dialogue ("Was it a brother man or a jive-ass honky?"), gravity-defying Afros, garishly loud suits, and mangled cop cars that look like leftovers from John Landis' The Blues Brothers inadvertently make this more fun than anything on Nickelodeon's TV Land offshoot (and that includes both Adam-12 and The Mod Squad). Like the characters, the actors involved suffer from a wide range of inabilities, with the exception of Rocco, who ably portrays his good cop/bad cop hybrid with something approaching professionalism. He's not Robert Blake, mind you, but then, who is? Not-quite-classic crapola that nevertheless provides more than your recommended daily dosage of grooviness. Stay cool, maaan.

2.5 Stars

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