As far as I'm concerned, Joel Schumacher is the epitome of what people mean when they disparagingly call something 'too Hollywood': he likes his explosions HUGE, his emotions sappy and his characters paper-thin. So, with that in mind, I had low expectations of 'Falling Down,' but watched it anyway. (For a change, I wasn't watching it because of my wife, but because I've always been a little intrigued by the premise. It was only Schumacher that kept me from it before now.) It's not unreasonable to say the movie surpassed my expectations, but not my much. This is a hard film to get a grip on. Is it a comedy? Is it an action movie? Is it the story of a psycho on the loose? Is it a biting satire/commentary on society? Is it a racist diatribe? It seems 'Falling Down' is a little of all these, but it's often difficult to tell if this is intentional, or because writer Ebbe Roe Smith (an actor writing, rarely a good sign) lost the thread somewhere along the way. Again, it seems a little of both. For instance, there are clear indications of intentional parallels to be drawn between the D-FENS and Prendergast (the off-kilter women in their lives, 'London Bridge is Falling Down,' their general demeanours). However, with those same two characters, we see an unravelling of narrative parallels (D-FENS attacks the Korean shopkeep with open racial malice while Prendergast carelessly assumes the Korean and the Japanese cop speak the same language; D-FENS battles the Mexican gang guys, and Prendergast has to fight to weasel his way into his Mexican coworker's case) that seem intentional at first but may have just been coincidental. Then there's the view of D-FENS as a man on the verge of becoming (to borrow a term from 'Manhunter'), and the two directions we can see him going. Could he have been a quiet fighter for justice like Prendergast, or would his vigilantism have been a slippery slope to the homophobic/homoerotic leatherboy Nazi fantasy of 'Nick, The Nazi Surplus Store Owner'? (I won't even go into that whole twisted scene! Was that homoeroticism intentional? I REALLY hope so...I'd hate to think someone could come up with that without meaning to.) Beyond all this symbolic nonsense lies the movie itself, truly a Schumacher piece. The explosions are indeed huge, the emotions are certainly sappy, and the characters are so thin you can practically see through them. The script, though at times inventive and thought-provoking, contains some terrible dialogue and it is often painful to watch two heavy-hitters like Duvall and Douglas struggle with what's in their mouths. The cast beyond them is filled out with some of the stiffest actors I've ever seen supporting playing even flimsier characters than the leads (what was the deal with the super-obnoxious guy paired up with Prendergast's gal-pal?). So, what was this movie? It was (I hope) a dark comedy action antihero diatribe, but it was also a half-assed attempt at depicting America in a single human. That human, of course, is our main character William 'D-Fens' Foster. He's not just an average American, but the country itself. It's not necessarily apparent at first viewing, but it really all comes together when, just before he's shot to death (your spoiler, ladies and gents) Prendergast assures D-FENS he's 'the bad guy' (in almost exactly the same way other characters have evoked his disbelief when they expect the absolute worst from him). His response is, 'How did that happen? I did everything they told me to.' Therein lies the crux of the movie and the character: he is America, which has become the 'bad guy' to most of the world, in spite of (perhaps because of) doing everything it thought its own populace and the world stage wanted. But (as ably illustrated in the home movie when he's forcing the kid onto the rocking horse he was going to buy her AGAIN this year), it was always more about what he/it wanted: countries don't ask to be invaded and have their dictators toppled, but America's always been more than willing to do it for them...as long as there's something in it for America. All told, this wasn't a bad movie, just typically heavy-handed for Schumacher. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, and I'm glad it was a late-night flick I didn't have to pay for. The biggest success of the entire film, regrettably, is that it conveys that it was a hot day, a damn hot day.
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