Empty Balcony: Officer Downe

Not all comic book adaptations feature superheroes and supervillains chasing down the one mysterious MacGuffin that can either save or destroy the universe. Sometimes, all a comic book hero wants to do is clean up the streets of the big city.

Part Robocop, part drive-in homage, and part splatterfest, Officer Downe is the cinematic adaptation of the comic of the same name from writer Joe Casey and artist Chris Burnham. Casey also penned the screenplay for Officer Downe, while directing duties were handled by Shawn Crahan. If that name is familiar to some of the Loyal Seven readers, that’s because Crahan’s day job is as a member of heavy metal group Slipknot. Other members of the band get in on the fun as extras and minor characters.

Kim Coates plays the eponymous officer, a drone-like police officer who is killed every night in the line of duty while battling the bad guys, only to be resurrected with psychic energy and sent back out again. Downe has a real hard-on for fighting crime. He doesn’t bother with investigations and arrests. He blows into hideouts and wastes everyone there, all the while spouting quips and one-liners. It’s over-the-top cliché, and that’s by design.

Officer Downe follows in the still rolling wake of the grindhouse revival spearheaded by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Planet Terror and Death Proof were almost a decade old when this film was released in 2016, but they reopened a genre of film that had been thought mined out.

Downe wears a ridiculous uniform and carries a ridiculous gun. He blows criminals heads off and takes a pretty good amount of damage, himself. Wherever he appears, it’s a guarantee there will be lots of violence. Downe is the very personification of the mindless Officer Downekilling machine. Some depth gets added to the character by the end of the flick, but for most of the 88-minute running time, Downe is all about the violence.

There are other people in this movie, and I’m not referring to the clownish criminals Downe kills (the best of these is Sona Eyembe as Zen Master flash). The razor-thin plot is supported by Tyler Ross as rookie LAPD officer Gable, and Luna Lauren Velez as Chief Berringer. They exist for exposition and filler in the rare scene when Downe isn’t killing people.

This isn’t the type of film that delves deeply, if at all, into the morality of the subject. It’s all about the spectacle. The Los Angeles of the film might as well be Gotham City for the type of criminals that inhabit it. They are every bit as colorful and unhinged as Riddler or the Joker. The only major difference is that the criminals of this film are in it for profit, rather than destruction of the city.

I think that’s something that modern comics have lost. It seems that every title on the shelves or in theaters these days features an apocalyptic battle with the fate of millions, or billions, hanging in the balance. It’s tiresome. Why can’t Batman chase down some garden variety bank robbers or serial killers? Why must writers and editors insist on mass destruction as the only goal worthy of their villains? Why does it always have to be personal between the hero and the villain? Anyway…

Downe kills and kills and kills. It’s bloody and nasty, but never realistic. The film is full of eyerolling moments of absurdity and testosterone. The line between the absurd and the crude is thin, and Crahan spends a little too much time on the wrong side of it, but this isn’t the worst effort at similar material I’ve seen. Still, this is not a good movie. It’s mediocre — not even bad enough to be shitty.

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