Between Hollywood Shuffle and his HBO specials, Robert Townsend was a major force in comedy in the 1980’s and 90’s. This early attempt at showing what an African-American superhero would be like is sorely overlooked.
Jefferson Reed (Townsend, who also directed, produced and wrote the film) is a high school teacher who dreams of playing jazz, stuck in a neighborhood ruled by the Golden Lords gang and drug lord Anthony Byers (Frank Gorshin, the Ridder from the 60’s Batman TV show). After he stops them from raping a girl, the gang, led by Simon Caine, chases him into a dumpster. That dumpster is then hit by a meteor. Days later, he awakes in a hospital where his major injuries have already healed.
The meteor also gives him powers, like x-ray vision, flight, improved strength and hearing, super speed, invulnerability, telekinesis, dog communication and the power to absorb the knowledge of books. His power set totally seems like someone rolled him up at random in the old Marvel Super-Heroes TSR role-playing game.
With the help of his parents (Benson‘s Robert Guillaume and The Jeffersons’ Marla Gibbs) and neighbor (James Earl Jones in a hilarious, wigtastic performance), Meteor Man stops 11 robberies, destroys 15 crack houses and brings the Crips (Cypress Hill!) and the Bloods (Naughty by Nature!) together. He even plants a garden in the middle of the food desert that his neighborhood has become.
The Golden Lords learn who Meteor Man is, as well as the fact that his powers are fading. The community even wants him to leave to keep the gang from attacking them, but he takes the fight to the gang, despite the fact that he has no powers. He’s saved by Marvin (Bill Cosby), a homeless man who has also found part of the meteor.
Meteor Man finally defeats the gang, but not before his dog is fatally hurt. Marvin comes and uses the last of his powers to save the dog. Then, a gang of hitmen all attack the community — led by Luthor Vandross, no less — before Cypress Hill and Naughty by Nature come back to save everyone. Sometimes guns really do solve everything!
The film is packed with stars, like Eddie Griffith as one of our hero’s friends; Sinbad; Another Bad Creation as the Junior Lords; Big Daddy Kane; Don Cheadle; Tiny Lister (Zeus from No Holds Barred and Deebo from Friday); Biz Markie and Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride).
Meteor Man even got a six-issue series from Marvel where he’d meet Spider-Man and Night Thrasher (who at the time was one of Marvel’s most prominent African-American heroes). The comic used the original ending of the film, where Jeff discovers a larger part of the meteor in Arizona, as a plot point.
I wouldn’t say this is a great film, but it’s entertaining and the runtime flies by. Numerous re-writes led to a script filled with plotholes and subplots that go nowhere, like Jeff being in love with his ex-girlfriend Stacy, as well as his numerous phobias. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying this slice of pop culture from the early part of the 90’s.