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‘The Mighty Quinn’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 17, 1989

"The Mighty Quinn" is a sunny Caribbean caper as giddily seductive as a great big umbrella drink. It's sly, wry and ocean-salty, a detective story with tropical punch.

Denzel Washington, last seen as Steven Biko in "Cry Freedom," proves nothing short of adorable as Xavier Quinn -- a driven police chief nicknamed "The Mighty" by his disparaging neighbors. But no gumshoe worth his sole has ever been a conformist, and Quinn, island-born and FBI-bred, is no exception. His problem -- reconcile the disparate influences while solving a brutal hot-tub murder.

Somebody made stew of a prominent tourist at a plush island resort, and to Quinn's chagrin, the prime suspect is his boyhood friend Maubee, a Peter Pan in dreadlocks played by the puckish Robert Townsend. The spineless governor and a calculating resort owner warn Quinn off the case, but convinced that Maubee is being framed, he proceeds with the investigation.

It's all really just an excuse to tour Jamaica, where the scenic film was shot. Though European-born and schooled, director Carl Schenkel finds a balmy animism, a magical ambience in this verdant production. Neat pastel cottages and polluted juke joints contrast with the antiseptic beauty of the beachside resorts amid the rhythms of reggae.

Schenkel and company in no way stereotype the islanders, but offer an affectionate portrait of their eccentricities. It's the sort of off-kilter approach that "Local Hero" director Bill Forsyth takes with his Scotsmen -- and the occasional mermaid. The characters are mystical, unpredictable, the spirit of the island come to life. And there are the delightful incidentals -- Quinn obliged to idle while three old blind gentlemen carrying boogie boxes feel their way across the street to the tune of "I'm a Girl Watcher."

Sheryl Lee Ralph and Mimi Rogers vie for the hero's attentions as Quinn's singer-wife and would-be seductress, respectively. Suffice to say he does what's right. Folk morality mixes with goofy noir touches in Hampton Fancher's charming adaptation of A.H.Z. Carr's novel. With Fancher's dialogue and Washington's comedic timing, "The Mighty Quinn" is more fun than a cabana full of bananas.

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