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Overall Rating

Awesome: 33.7%
Worth A Look41.3%
Average: 19.57%
Pretty Bad: 2.17%
Total Crap: 3.26%

5 reviews, 62 user ratings

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Falling Down
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by Rob Gonsalves

"He's mad as hell and blah blah whatever."
3 stars

Like most movies designed to be debated on the op-ed page, "Falling Down" doesn't live up to its negative hype. It's been called dangerous and borderline racist, a charge it narrowly deflects by showing one good Hispanic cop for every Hispanic punk, and so on. It has also been called a powerful black comedy, but considering the true classics of black comedy we've produced ("Dr. Strangelove" being the pinnacle), it's an embarrassing assessment -- an indication of how far movies have sunk.

Falling Down, despite some scenes of humor and poignance, is a mess -- a crude, cathartic rant that both condemns and exploits modern paranoia. Director Joel Schumacher (Flatliners) has made a Joe for the '90s, which will seem as overblown and rabble-rousing 20 years from now as Joe seems today.

Michael Douglas, by now an ace at acting out our less acceptable fantasies (Fatal Attraction, The War of the Roses, Basic Instinct), keeps the movie going all by himself. As Bill Foster, a bitter, laid-off defense worker whom the cops nickname D-FENS after his license plate, Douglas wears a brittle brush-cut that makes him look like a No. 2 pencil without the eraser; he also sports glasses whose chunky black frames seem to be squeezing the brains out of his head. For the first reel or so, we're locked inside his anger. When D-FENS sits trapped in a Los Angeles traffic jam, hounded by a buzzing fly and sweating in misery, we feel his prickly frustration; when he abandons his car, it's a sweet release. Douglas, who has always seemed the least relaxed of actors, plays this wordless scene as a pantomime of gut tension.

Once D-FENS goes on the warpath, Falling Down becomes shrill and incoherent. D-FENS plans to go home to his ex-wife (Barbara Hershey) and celebrate his little daughter's birthday. But everyone in L.A. -- a Korean store-owner who won't give him change for a phone call; two Hispanics who pull knives on him -- stands in his way. Threatened, he lashes out. Is he nuts, or just mad as hell? He keeps insisting on his right as an American to be left alone, but he seems to be looking for convenient targets for his rage. You'd have to get that impression from Douglas' performance, because the script (credited to Ebbe Roe Smith) presents D-FENS as a generally decent guy, prone to temper, who blows off a little steam at people who deserve it. We're meant, I think, to cheer him on even as we recoil. The movie is a cartoon Taxi Driver -- only assholes feel the brunt of the psycho's fury.

In a subplot, a cool-headed desk-jockey cop named Prendergast (Robert Duvall) rides out his last day before an early retirement and finds himself pulled into the vortex of D-FENS' activities. This half of the film is awful, despite an honorable and detailed turn by Duvall. As Prendergast gets deeper into the case, his shrewish, neurotic wife (Tuesday Weld) keeps shrieking at him over the phone. The script provides a plausible reason for her sad craziness (their daughter died at age two), but Schumacher treats her cruelly. Are we meant to sympathize with her, or with Prendergast for putting up with the crazy bitch? Between her and D-FENS, the film seems to say that the best way to handle a mentally ill loved one is to chuckle indulgently or turn your back.

Meanwhile, back on the streets, D-FENS raises the stakes. Toying with a bazooka, he blows up a truck. Offended by a man who wants to use a pay phone, he takes a machine gun and shoots the hell out of that goddamn phone. (That's telling him.) The only person he kills outright is a Nazi surplus-store owner (Frederic Forrest), whose every syllable is a harangue against -- you guessed it -- niggers, queers, and kikes. "You and me are the same," he leers to D-FENS, who looks disgusted. Overwritten and overacted, the character comes along at just the right time to establish that there are bad neo-fascists, who gloat over cans that once held the gas that killed the Jews, and then there are good neo-fascists, who do funny, intelligent things like busting up Korean-owned stores. Falling Down plays it every which way.

Douglas, however, keeps his integrity. In a scene that will no doubt be included in some future Michael Douglas montage on television, Douglas strides into a fast-food joint and orders breakfast. When told that breakfast isn't served after 11:30 (it's 11:34), Douglas puts on a spectacular show of venomous sarcasm and menace; it's like Jack Nicholson's famous diner scene in Five Easy Pieces, only with firearms. Later, when Prendergast interrupts D-FENS' reunion with his family and D-FENS discovers he can't go home again, we feel a hard stab of compassion when he croaks, "I'm the bad guy? How did that happen?"

The minute D-FENS abandons his car, Douglas seems to abandon the script, with all its cynical murk, and forge ahead to create a character far more deeply imagined than the movie surrounding him.

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originally posted: 12/28/06 11:02:25
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User Comments

3/18/19 kevin just as powerfull as when it first came out 5 stars
9/16/17 morris campbell well made oddball goes of the deep end flick 3 stars
4/13/16 Dr. Lao "I'm a white, middle class man! How DARE reality not cater to me!" 1 stars
1/15/15 david froman douglas and duvall have done better 3 stars
8/22/11 Chris F Excellent film and never a boring moment 5 stars
1/20/11 Chilliday Good film, but this review gives away too much of it! 4 stars
4/16/10 Zing Reflections on this film always seem to be reflections on the viewer making them. 5 stars
5/27/09 Not Economically Viable Imperfect but, like Taxi Driver, shows us where violent outcasts come from 4 stars
5/25/09 art THIS" DEFENSE" WAS A SUICIDAL MANIAC!,so much for this movie! 1 stars
12/16/08 spongekill D-fens is what he is, not necessarily meant to be cheered on or hated, just observed. 5 stars
8/07/08 action movie fan very good film of ordinary man pushed to the limit-engrossing and memorable 5 stars
3/05/08 art mike douglas goes from "DEATH WISH" TO "RAMBO"A WILD STORY 3 stars
2/05/08 Georg My favourite. Socially critical and morale while amusing, great acting, subtle story 5 stars
11/20/07 rob watching it now! Highly recommended. Isnt D-FENS in all of us to some small degree? 5 stars
8/02/07 Quigley Very interesting story of one man's descent. Douglas is great. Got a little long at times 4 stars
12/30/06 Brian This movie isn't crap. It's one of the funniest movies ever made. 5 stars
11/25/06 deej amazing film, looked at the cover thought boring, then you watch it "Im the theif?!" 5 stars
8/23/06 David Cohen Mike Douglas has hissy fit, Schumacher films it, how could it be anything but total crap? 1 stars
4/28/06 Sugarfoot People often mistake this as a vigilante psycho film, but it's really a sharp black comedy. 4 stars
12/12/05 gray try making a film like this about teens and see what happens 5 stars
11/29/05 Sameer Siruguri pretty intense, though not a great movie. Douglas has a pretty good role and so does Duvall 4 stars
11/02/05 Gene Best golf movie ever...DFENS ROCKS...everyone else in the movie is an annoying shill 5 stars
7/23/05 Brandy Harrington Awesome movie. TAKE REVENGE ON THIS HYPOCRTICAL SHITHOLE SOCIETY! 5 stars
7/03/05 Jay Norris It shows that it doesn't take racism, poverty or powermongering to make one take a stand! 5 stars
5/28/05 Indrid Cold A unique, darkly hilarious drama. Somehow it's not quite a classic though. 4 stars
4/15/05 Raymond Montoya A great movie. a must see 5 stars
1/30/05 Jeff Anderson A Joel Schumacher & Michael Douglas film WORTH REMEMBERING! Both their best film to date!!! 5 stars
1/11/05 peter Very underated movie ...."You forgot your briefcase" priceless! 5 stars
7/12/04 Stuart Excellent movie, great acting by Douglas - sad ending 5 stars
4/21/04 Daveman Ponderous, lacks focus and direction, shamelessly demonises Douglas' character in the end. 2 stars
3/31/04 true review - correct review everytime great dialogue and social commentary, funny and poignant as well as darkly relative 5 stars
3/26/04 Mars 2071 'D-FENS' is the best vigilante ever 5 stars
3/18/04 Umbrella Corporation. A great subsitute before Schumacher's other glasses wearing morale vigilante (Phone BOOTH)! 5 stars
3/17/04 PAYNE_KillerZ D-FENS... What a concept!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
3/16/04 Andrew Felton makes manifest emotions simmering beneath the artificial veneer of social order 5 stars
2/24/04 LIAM JACKSON D-FENS is the ultimate urban hero. 5 stars
6/13/03 VZA very cool film: great audio-visual effects, a bit flat story 4 stars
6/04/03 brendan scher fantastic 5 stars
3/23/03 filmsbuff A good idea, but it could have been done much better. 4 stars
1/31/03 Mister Bigglesworth No pronounce it with me: "pre-dic-table" 2 stars
1/16/03 mattyfresh I'm glad other people relate to D-Fens as welll 5 stars
10/17/02 Charles Tatum Douglas does what many of us think about doing 5 stars
4/22/02 Spyguy2 Overwrought drama that's in over it's head. Slightly better than made-for-tv. Just slighty 3 stars
3/07/02 R.W. Welch Parable of a cornered Everyman that keeps your interest and moves well. 4 stars
12/11/01 slappy jacks i ejoyed this movie a lot but i must agree the pedegrass pars were a bit blah 4 stars
12/02/01 Flip Kromer Really really good, Possibly great, Just barely not All-time 4 stars
11/30/01 The $1.98 Pyramid The everyday man who snaps just turned out to be a nutcase who thinks he snaped. 4 stars
10/16/01 MaMaFaC FUCKING ROCKS 5 stars
10/13/01 The Bomb 69 solid beginning started to unravel at the end and become silly 4 stars
8/20/01 Monster W. Kung Interesting idea and script get almost ruined by awful ending a-la "we have to condemn him" 3 stars
8/10/01 E-Funk Joel Schumacher's best film. Douglas is perfect as always. very sad. 5 stars
7/26/01 Gizzy Got sillier as it went along. Huge potential - perhaps a better script? 4 stars
6/14/01 David I liked the golf course scene, it defines his character the most. 4 stars
2/04/01 Invader This movie touches on the surpressed motives that drive us all, a good effort allround 4 stars
10/24/00 looser good 4 stars
8/28/00 bedwards great performances set in a missed opportunity - blame screenwriter more than director 4 stars
8/16/00 Larwence G. Allotta A brilliant film that depicts the true underside of civilized life in America. 5 stars
6/29/00 Terrie Smith Hey, something like this could happen to anyone; Douglas carries it off. 4 stars
6/20/00 D-Fens I want you to tell me there's nothing wrong with the road... 5 stars
3/25/00 John Owen Seriously flawed and kind of stupid 3 stars
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  01-Feb-1993 (R)

  N/A (18)


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