Monday, August 18, 2014

The Final Comedown (1972)

Social activism isn’t the first thing that springs to mind upon hearing the name Billy Dee Williams, but amid the many escapist movies and TV shows on his résumé are a handful of projects about racially charged issues. For instance, Williams coproduced and starred in The Final Comedown, a violent drama about a black-power revolutionary. Suffering from inconsistent acting, a meager budget, and sloppy storytelling, the movie doesn’t even remotely work. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say the filmmakers’ hearts were in the right place, politically speaking, because writer-director Oscar Williams constructs the narrative as an allegory expressing rage at the mistreatment of blacks in ’70s America. Alas, The Final Comedown doesn’t do justice to the subject matter; powerful films of the same era, including Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) and The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973), tackled similar material much more effectively. The Final Comedown begins with a disjoined montage juxtaposing a traumatic childhood experience, a confusingly staged shootout between police and revolutionaries, and random vignettes of prejudice and racism. The idea is to explain, in the course of a few minutes, how Johnny Johnson (Williams) was radicalized. At the end of the montage, Johnny gets hit with a bullet. Then, for the remainder of the movie, The Final Comedown cuts back and forth between Johnny’s struggle to survive his wound and semi-chronological flashbacks explaining the events leading to the shootout. The mosaic approach makes The Final Comedown hard to follow, a problem exacerbated by the film’s skimpy production values. (The filmmakers clearly envisioned an apocalyptic backdrop of streets filled with combat, but all they really show is a contained skirmish.) Supporting characters are underdeveloped, and the filmmakers occasionally undercut the overall serious tone by including such blaxploitation-style flourishes as a tediously overlong sex scene. Plus, subtlety is left far behind whenever the filmmakers try to hit a political note: “The system is destroying us,” Williams explains at one point, “so we have to fight, and some of us have got to die.” Or, as costar D’Urville Martin says succinctly in another scene: “White man—ain’t you a bitch with your shit.”

The Final Comedown: LAME

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