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‘The Meteor Man’ (PG)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 06, 1993

Of all the ways for a normal mortal to attain superpowers, the way Jefferson Reed gets his in "The Meteor Man" is one of the lamest. Reed, played by multi-hyphenate auteur Robert Townsend (who, from the way his name is plastered all over the opening credits, did everything on the film but the catering), is a substitute teacher in a tough neighborhood dominated by black-leather-clad, peroxide blond tough guys called the Golden Lords.

Nearly every night the neighbors gather to talk about how to fight back. The majority opinion is that the battle cannot be won, that the sinister Golden Lords -- who even have a kids' army of "baby lords" -- are too strong.

That is, until Jefferson gets hit by a meteor.

What the meteor does -- see if this makes any sense to you -- is hit him right in the middle of the chest. But instead of reducing the guy to a cinder, this big, throbbing gob of green molten rock is absorbed into his body, giving him the ability to fly, absorb all the information inside any book (for 30 seconds), see through walls, bounce bullets off his chest -- all the usual stuff.

As a result, Jefferson, who is afraid of heights and routinely counsels kids to run when faced with danger, becomes the most reluctant of super-heroes. Some men have greatness thrust upon them and rise to the challenge; Jefferson conducts himself as "Meteor Man" (in a suit his mother whips up for him on her sewing machine) in much the same unfocused, half-engaged way that he runs his everyday life. Jefferson isn't a strong figure, and he never evolves into one either. In fact, his dominant trait -- and Townsend's as an actor -- is his utter forgettability. And Townsend the director only makes matters worse for the cast by stranding himself and his costars in scenes that are completely without energy or purpose.

The movie just kind of meanders along with Townsend performing marginally diverting feats of semi-derring-do, while community members, such as a downstairs neighbor played by James Earl Jones (in the saddest-looking series of toupees, including a lopsided fade), talk about "standing up to violence" and "saving the kids."

The movie is so civic-minded, in fact, that its public service value far outstrips its worth as a comedy. There are the obligatory cameos by rap stars, unmomentous guest appearances by Sinbad and Luther Vandross, and a wordless riff by Bill Cosby as a street bum who also gets the superpower bug and who contributes so little to the picture that you can't imagine why he bothered. (Maybe he's using the money as a down payment for NBC.) Added to this, the picture looks cheesy and slapped-together, as if it were produced by K-Tel Records. In terms of production standards, "Meteor Man" is not even up to the level of "Wayne's World." It's sub-cable access.

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