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Falling Down

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Falling Down

Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall
Director: Joel Schumacher
Rated: R
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: February 1993
Genres: Action, Drama

*Also starring: Barbara Hershey, Frederic Forrest, Tuesday Weld, Rachel Ticotin, Lois Smith, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond J. Barry, Brent Hinkley

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

In the opening of 1993's FALLING DOWN, a man known mainly by his vanity license plate name, D-FENS, has reached his breaking point. Stuck in a traffic jam that goes on forever, his air-conditioning has gone on the fritz, the kids in the school bus nearby are hanging out their windows screaming and a pesky fly is driving him crazy. Doing what we all fantasize about, he walks out of his vehicle and declares he's had it. As his figure disappears on the horizon, his fellow drivers are left dumbstruck as to what to make of this act of courage or insanity.

Dressed in a white shirt with a narrow tie and a plastic pocket protector, D-FENS, played with a blend of grace and irascibility by Michael Douglas, has a crew cut head that is drenched in sweat. When he walks into a convenience store owned by a Korean, he goes completely berserk over the owner's inability to give him change. Using the owner's bat, he trashes the place for no reason other than deep seated resentment of minorities as he suspects them of having stolen some of his opportunities.

When two Hispanic gang members pick him out to hold up, they find they have chosen the wrong guy. Although no Steven Seagal, Douglas's fury imbues D-FENS with extraordinary strength. In no time, D-FENS becomes an efficient and unemotional killing machine attacking the people he resents, which covers the vast majority of the residents of Southern California where he lives. With his pasty white skin and bright white shirt, D-FENS stands out in the crowd of minorities that populate most of the picture.

D-FENS has no safe haven. Lost, he wants to return to his ex-wife's house for his daughter's birthday. With the natural fear of a deranged ex-husband, Barbara Hershey plays his jumpy ex-wife.

His gripe is not confined to minorities. When, one minute too late, he enters a fast food restaurant, he finds that he can no longer order breakfast from its excessively smiling personnel. Grinning from ear to ear, the clerk and her manager explain that they are not serving breakfast anymore. It is arguably in this scene when he most touches a nerve in all of us. Who among us has not been in a similar situation? When he pulls out his machine gun, all of a sudden he can have the very thing that was deemed impossible only seconds earlier.

The beauty of Douglas's everyman performance is how polite he remains to those shocked by his bizarre behavior. His stiff, awkward walk and his sad story leave the viewer with somewhat ambiguous feelings about him. One moment you hate him, but the next he begins to generate some hidden sympathy, most notably in the fast food scene, but also in others.

In the cliched role of the cop on his last day on the job, Robert Duvall plays a perpetually mild-mannered detective named Prendergast. In contrast to D-FENS's seething anger, Prendergast has the relaxed look of someone about to retire. Unfazed, he enjoys his last day in his war against criminals. "I don't like you," his boss admits. "You know why? You don't curse. I don't trust a man who doesn't curse." (The once beautiful and slender Tuesday Weld, now with rolls of fat, plays Prendergast's clingy wife.)

"I'm the bad guy?" asks a disbelieving D-FENS when finally trapped by Prendergast. "How did that happen?" Swept up in a tide of events that has engulfed his life, he has no idea what has happened to him. He was just an average Joe Engineer only a month ago before he was laid off.

Part Orwellian morality tale and part bizarre little movie, FALLING DOWN both fascinates and repulses the viewer. It is an uneven and frequently pretentious story that is never as important or dramatic as it thinks it is. Still, there is a hint of truth in every scene even if overblown. When the film ends, you realize that it has touched hidden nerves in strange and unsettling ways.

FALLING DOWN runs 1:48. It is rated R for profanity and violence. The film would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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