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Posted at 01:22 PM ET, 08/09/2011

Catch ‘D.C. Cab’ at MiG Bar


Mr. T adjusts one of many earrings prior to yet another scene for “D.C. Cab” during filming in Washington in May 1983. (GARY A. CAMERON - The Washington Post)
MiG Bar is exactly the kind of bar people complain doesn’t exist in Adams Morgan — a small, cool drinking den with good music, affordable beer and personable owners who double as bartenders.

MiG Bar moved into the old Rendezvous Lounge space earlier this summer, and I’ve been visiting it more in recent weeks as a respite from the crowded 18th Street strip. I suspect I’ll be there even more now that the bar has installed an 8-foot movie screen to show classic films every Tuesday night. Tonight’s double feature: the 1984 Soviet invasion film “Red Dawn” and, more awesomely, 1983’s “D.C. Cab,” starring Mr. T, Gary Busey and Paul Rodriguez as taxi drivers in Washington D.C. (The film is worth seeing just for the early-’80s views of U Street.) There’s no cover charge, and films begin at 9 and 11 p.m., respectively. The schedule in future weeks includes “Fire Walk With Me,” the two “Kill Bill” features and plenty of old “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” episodes.

Named after the trailblazing Russian MiG jet, the one-room bar is decorated with old U.S.S.R. propaganda posters and edgy graffiti-style illustrations of planes, pilots and skulls wearing Russian uniforms. (A message scrawled in Russian on the mirror behind the bar reads “Buy the lady a drink!”) The soundtrack leans towards indie rock and classic Britpop.

There’s plenty of vodka to sip and a small range of canned and bottled beers; Natty Boh and PBR are $3 all the time, while the high end includes $6 cans of DC Brau and bottles of Tsingtao. (The smooth house MiGtini cocktail contains Hammer and Sickle vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and orange bitters, and costs $10.)

Beyond movies, there’s good news for Adams Morgan soccer fans: MiG Bar co-owners Van Hillard and Chad McCall plan to start opening at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to project English Premier League games on their new movie screen. (The two support arch-rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, respectively, which means you’ll always have a bartender to banter with.)

“D.C. Cab” is the perfect opportunity to experience MiG Bar for the first time. Since many people won’t be familiar with the plot, the original Washington Post review is featured below.

Rollicking ‘D.C. Cab’: Top-Notch Fare
By Gary Arnold
Thursday, Dec. 15, 1983

At one point in the exuberant “D.C. Cab,” Ophelia, an exasperated driver, confronts her hapless boss, Harold, and complains, “You got this animal magnetism--you attract animals!”

Ophelia’s complaint is mischievously appropriate to this rollicking mess of a screwball farce, patchily organized around the misadventures of a group of misfit cabbies (and a few bothersome dependents, notably Anne De Salvo as Harold’s devious wife Myrna). The film is held together by the talents of a marvelous ensemble of farceurs--character actors, young comedians or imposing comic props, like the Brobdingnagian Barbarian Brothers.

“D.C. Cab” jumps you in the spirit of a big, shaggy and affection-craving pooch. You may wish it weren’t quite so sloppily demonstrative, but it’s too full of zest and good will to be resisted.

The setting is a fairy-tale District of Columbia. Director Joel Schumacher and producer Topper Carew, who once organized arts programs in Washington and may have been overcome with nostalgia for his old stomping grounds, have contrived a pixilated blend of Capraesque social comedy with lingering echoes of the counterculture. The denizens of D.C. Cab seem to have been washed up by the ‘60s--they’re dominated by unreconstructed freaks, poseurs and visionary wackos. But the sentimental underpinnings of their inspirational solidarity hark back to Capra’s underdog fables.

Introductions are arranged by showing us around in the company of an admiring newcomer, Adam Baldwin as a sweet kid named Albert. As Albert learns the routes and awaits his hack license, we meet the drivers, whose quirks and problems may be exploited for amusement or a random episode. For example, Mr. T, the most publicized but far from the most prominent or impressive member of the ensemble, is a driver named Samson who broods about the influence of neighborhood drug peddlers and pimps. Gary Busey also contents himself with a subsidiary role--as Dell, the fleet’s redneck, whose mind operates in less than brilliant patterns.

The pivotal event is a financial crisis, provoked by Myrna, that allows Albert to bail out the business with his own savings and encourage pride and enterprise in his bedraggled colleagues. The movie’s lack of worldliness may be measured by the fact that Albert’s nest egg, $6,800, appears to buy about 20 times that amount in improvements for the fleet, but in this instance as in several others, it’s obviously the thought that counts.

The most dynamic performer is the young black comedian Charlie Barnett, as a hostile, larcenous driver named Tyrone. If “D.C. Cab” becomes a hit, this debut should do as much for Barnett as “48 Hrs.” did for Eddie Murphy a year ago. Barnett and Baldwin share the funniest slapstick sequence in the movie: an interlude of sustained hysteria when they encounter a freight train bearing down on Tyrone’s helpless cab. An inventive repository of comic moods and faces, Barnett could probably carry the show if obliged to, but Schumacher has been astute enough to distribute the burden. With so many amusing actors batting around the screen, it’s impossible to get tired of anyone.

Although they don’t jump out of the pack as often as Barnett, two other up-and-coming comics, Bill Maher and Paul Rodriguez, also make a distinctive impact, as the cabbies Baba and Xavier. Max Gail as Harold and Marsha Warfield as Ophelia, along with De Salvo, Busey, Whitman Mayo, DeWayne Jessie and Jose Perez are excellent in the character roles, along with a small army of bit players, especially Diana Bellamy as a leather-lunged waitress determined to protect her flirty daughter (Jill Schoelen) from honorable Albert. This juvenile romance also happens to be one of the weakest of Schumacher’s loose plot threads.

To universal relief, there’s just enough, and not a frown more, of the glowering Mr. T, who has busily worn out of his welcome since justifying the existence of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky III.” T’s characterization is pretty squareball, but his wardrobe--knit, skintight jammies in Popsicle colors--supplies plenty of decorative merriment.

I don’t think Schumacher squanders any good comedy ideas, and his background as a costume designer and art director seems to predispose him toward eccentrically original and sometimes spectacular sight gags. For example, the movie begins with a witty spoof of the opening, under-the-spaceship images popularized by “Star Wars” and ends with a staggering stunt-driving payoff to an extended chase sequence. Even his most absurd brainstorms can be weirdly funny--for example, the notion of what an Irene Cara floor show at the White House might look like.

While guest star Cara seems to be flashdancing the Reagans into submission, Schumacher gets a beguiling fancy and shows a servant opening a set of French doors. This allows Cara’s act to be seen by her “street” fans from D.C. Cab, dressed in evening clothes and peeping through telescopes from some impossible location across Pennsylvania Avenue. At one time a director who got inspirations this farfetched but charming would have seemed like a natural for musical comedy. Take it away, somebody.

By  |  01:22 PM ET, 08/09/2011

Categories:  Bars and Clubs

 
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