Forest Whitaker is a fascinating actor, but in terms of Hollywood’s market mentality he has too many strikes against him: He’s black, he’s not a matinee idol (even if he is dating Robin Givens), and his acting style is withdrawn and internal. Even starring in Bird, he didn’t act like a star.
So it’s distressingly predictable to see Whitaker shoehorned into the rote cop comedy Downtown. He shares billing with Anthony Edwards, another good actor, who tends to undermine his preppie looks with flaky unpredictability. Edwards is a white suburban cop transferred to Philadelphia’s ghetto precinct after he stumbles onto a corrupt businessman’s drug ring. Whitaker is a lone-wolf detective who doesn’t want any partner, let alone a puppy-dog honky. They fight, they become friends, they get the bad guy — all that’s missing is the laugh track.
The film is funny only in the depth of its miscalculations. Edwards brings his usual blithe weirdness to the role, but he’s just too Ivy League to be a believable cop. The script apes Lethal Weapon by giving Whitaker a wife and cute kids, but this actor’s no family man — he’s too spooky and intense.
As a final note of contempt, the filmmakers dump Whitaker in a hospital bed for the last 20 minutee and let Edwards handle the climactic heroics by himself. It’s awfully hard to buy into Downtown’s interracial buddy schtick when the black guy is so blatantly sent to the back of the bus. D