Robert Townsend’s The Meteor Man is very much like its writer-director-star: self-effacingly funny, kind of confused, but really, really nice. In this inner-city superhero fantasy, mild-mannered teacher Jefferson Reed (Townsend) gains magical powers when he’s struck by a glowing green meteor. He sets out to rid his neighborhood of crime, but the battle can’t be won unless his un-super neighbors fight, too. Proud and cute, the movie wears its community-action message like a chest logo.
Unfortunately, the sloppiness that dogged Townsend’s previous Hollywood Shuffle and The Five Heartbeats remains. There’s a romance with a fellow teacher (Stephanie Williams) that never solidifies, and the entire second half of the movie feels as if large segments were left writhing on the editing room floor. The message ends up terribly mixed, too: How do you convince kids that crime is bad if you cast every hot R&B act from Another Bad Creation to Big Daddy Kane as superglam villains? How do you put across an antigun statement when the finale hinges on the good guys having more weapons than the bad guys?
Still, The Meteor Man may have a few young fans. Townsend is a genially humble presence, and if the effects are cheesy, at least the laughs are there, especially when Jefferson tests his powers in a costume sewn by his mom. The film also features cameos from James Earl Jones in a mile-high toupee to Robert Guillaume as Jefferson’s ornery dad to model Beverly Johnson as a doctor. Michael Jackson even warbles over the opening titles.
So what if everything after the titles is a well-meaning mess? It’s hard to hate a superhero movie where one of the hero’s powers is that he can talk to his dog. C