Movie fans might be surprised that besides being a former pro football player, 1970s blaxploitation film icon, and all-around b-movie legend, Fred Williamson has 21 producing and directing credits to his name as of this writing (sometimes it’s the same movie, sometimes it’s not). The movies in his producing and directing lists aren’t all that good, but his presence alone raises the cachet.
Williamson directed, produced, and starred in Down ’n Dirty, from a screenplay by Aubrey K. Rattan. It’s a throwback movie. Despite being released in 2000, the script could easily have been used for a film in the 1970s. The only things that would be anachronistic are the cars, fashions, and the use of cellphones. Other than that, the film fits right in with a decades-old model.
Williamson stars as police detective Dakota Smith, reprising the character he played in Night Vision, from 1997. He’s the last honest man left on the force, and after his partner is murdered, Smith goes on a tear, discovering that the department is rife with corruption. He takes it upon himself to bring all those involved — cop and criminal — to justice, and he does so with a big gun. No kidding. In a nod to Dirty Harry, Williamson spouts this bit of tortured dialogue:
“You know what kind of gun I carry? A Desert Eagle. The most powerful handgun made in Israel.”
Interesting. I wonder what the most powerful handgun made in Mongolia is. Or Brunei. Anyway…
Smith goes on his hunt, aided by investigative photographer Nick Gleem (Randy J. Goodwin).
I wish I could go more into the twists and turns of the plot, but there really aren’t any. Smith goes from set piece to set piece, intimidating people and being tough — occasionally shooting some bad guys — and then at the end his chief hands him a warrant and he arrests the ringleaders. That’s it. There is very little in the way of detail. Williamson must have considered plot to be a secondary consideration in his movie. The most important thing was that Smith, and by extension Williamson, looks like a badass. He does, in absurd fashion. Many times during this flick when Smith would threaten someone or knock them around a little, I would mutter to myself, “This guy can’t be real.” And he’s not. It’s total fiction. But part of me thinks this film represents how Williamson feels about himself. It takes a lot of confidence to make a movie like this and think Dakota Smith is the male ideal.
As for the Williamson’s direction, it’s not good. The film plods along, hitting all of its marks, but besides the unintentional comedy of Dakota Smith, it lacks life, in the same way that paint-by-numbers pictures lack the spark of true creativity. It’s a movie, sure, but barely.
This is despite Williamson gathering some professional talent for the cast. Charles Napier and Tony Lo Bianco play cops. David Carradine and Gary Busey play bad guys. In an interesting filmmaking decision, neither of their characters show up in the movie until the halfway point, only adding to the confusion in the plot. And, fellow former pro football player-turned-actor Bubba Smith takes a turn as another police detective, and the only other person on the force who has Dakota Smith’s back.
I’m not sure if there was much more potential to this film, even had it been helmed by a filmmaker with better storytelling chops. It seems like exactly the movie that Fred Williamson, the actor, the producer, and the man, was looking for.
Great for the occasional laughs, but a bit of a slog elsewhere, Down ’n Dirty is a case study in why some actors belong in front of the camera and not behind it. It slides down the Watchability Index into the #283 spot, displacing Hellraiser: Inferno. It manages to stay out of the bottom third because unlike so many of the flicks wallowing down there, it showed no malice towards its viewers. It’s bad, but not aggressively so.