Review: Ultra-Violent OFFICER DOWNE (L.A. Film Festival 2016)
Outrageous, ultra-violent, and sleazy as hell, Officer Downe is the kind of movie made for midnight screenings and intended for audiences in the right mindset to see some deranged and psychotic nonsense.
What if you could resurrect RoboCop as many times as you wanted? That’s the simplified premise of this movie, which follows an L.A. super cop (Sons of Anarchy’s Kim Coates) who’s killed in the line of duty and brought back to life to continue his never-ending rampage against crime. Based on a comic and directed by Slipknot’s Shawn “Clown” Crahan, everything about Officer Downe is aggressive, in your face, and over the top. It’s all sex, drugs, rock ’n roll, and exploding heads, relentlessly blowing up traditional expectations about narrative structure and gleefully charging over the line of good taste.
The film opens with Downe going down on a busty blonde, and after she remarks about how he gave her fourteen consecutive orgasms (complete with a video game-style “orgasm counter” that pops up on screen), he stoically quips, “Just doing my civic duty.” Coates, all mustache and muscles, almost exclusively speaks in cop cliches (“If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” is indicative of most of his dialogue), and though the character isn’t a cyborg like RoboCop, he may as well be for the amount of humanity Coates brings to him.
In a movie that takes a lot of inspiration from video games (we see shots from a gun’s POV, a “ding” sound effect when he shoots people in one scene, different “levels” and “mini-bosses” abound, etc.), one of its main problems is once it’s established that Downe can be resurrected after every death, it removes the stakes of watching him go into battle. Scenes in which he faces off against an army of juiced up ninjas or a convent full of machine gun-wielding nuns (just the tip of the iceberg of this movie’s weirdness) have surface level thrills of seeing him mow down ridiculous opponents in the most gruesome ways possible — at one point, he blasts a nun into the sky, a vortex appears, she’s struck by lightning, and the vortex disappears (Downe doesn’t react to this, and no one mentions it ever again) — but we don’t feel like he’s in real danger, so there’s nothing to latch onto. (The filmmakers try to rectify this when the movie grinds to a halt in its third act, but by that point it’s too late.)
The rest of this preposterous world (in which Down has been openly busting drug operations in L.A. for two decades in the messiest possible ways, and yet somehow he’s part of a “top secret” branch of the force that the public and even some of his fellow cops don’t know about) is filled out with characters like a fresh-faced rookie (Tyler Ross) who’s brought in to serve as Downe’s backup, and what might be the goofiest rogue’s gallery ever committed to film. There’s a guy named “Headcase” Harry (Corey Taylor), who dresses in what could pass for awful Riddler cosplay and has one of those stupid tics in which he can’t stand to hear his own nickname. There’s a black ninja named Zen Master Flash (Sona Eyambe), It’s Always Sunny’s Glenn Howerton shows up as a greasy-haired gang member inexplicably adopting a horrendous British accent, and Drag Me To Hell’s Alison Lohman pops up in a supporting role as one of the gun-toting nuns.
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a separate gang called The Fortune 500, which, as far as I can tell, is comprised of three people wearing animal heads with regular business suits. They operate out of a board room with human heads lining the walls, in what I’m sure is meant to be a “clever” reversal of high-powered execs who keep animal heads mounted on their walls. It should tell you a great deal about the tone and general quality of this movie that even after having seen the whole film, I’m still not sure if this gang was supposed to be genetically enhanced or just a bunch of weirdos who prefer dressing in cheap masks. (Apropos of nothing, at one point they all receive oral sex in a sauna [still wearing their animal masks] from a group of Asian women dressed in geisha robes.)
Any movie about violent police officers in 2016 must be aware of the larger cultural conversation that’s been going on about that topic for the past couple of years, and amid all of its craziness, Officer Downe takes a minute to address this topic head-on when the police chief gives a speech about how the world needs a cop who will never give up. “Right or wrong, we need him out there,” she says. There are all sorts of ways to read into larger political messages that may or may not be contained within this film (especially involving the reveal of how Downe is physically resurrected), but since the movie is clearly meant to be seen as just a wild ride and not a Statement About Bigger Issues, I’ll leave those readings to you.
“Best not to dig too deep into the details,” the chief tells the rookie at one point. “Just let Downe do his thing.” That sentiment doubles as a mantra about the best way to approach this movie. If you’re looking for normality of any kind, search elsewhere. But if you’re willing to embrace full-on lunacy for an hour and a half, this is the movie for you. The cinematic equivalent of ten ‘roided-up bulls laying waste to a China shop, Officer Downe is an all-out assault on the senses.
[Note: I'm struggling with how to rate this one, since giving things a number grade is a new practice for us here. I actually hated the movie, so if I judged it purely on a personal scale, I'd give it a 1 or a 2. But I'm going to judge it on whether or not the movie achieves what it's trying to do, so that means it gets a different rating.]