During an intense traffic jam, a man (Michael Douglas) exits his car and heads off into the hot Los Angeles day. The reason? It’s his daughter’s birthday, and he will do anything to reach her. The man encounters many people and places along his journey, and uses them as conduits to express his frustrations with society. There is a Korean shopkeeper whose merchandise has economy-inflated prices, a group of gangland hoodlums, a commercialized burger joint, and a gay-hating Nazi, just to name a few. Our very flawed protagonist uses violence to deal with his societal issues, and picks up weapons along the way to help him out.
Robert Duvall is Detective Prendergast, a cop whose last day on the job goes from uneventful to fascinating, when he finds out what kind of damage Michael Douglas’s character is wreaking. Prendergast finds the man’s abandoned car, and notices that the license plate reads “D-Fens.” Using his detective skills and desire to keep the city safe from a raving lunatic, he begins to track down D-Fens (the name Michael Douglas is billed as in the credits) as the man gets closer and closer to the destination that is his daughter.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, Falling Down is an extremely disappointing movie; one that has a fantastic premise and a strong lead performance, but ultimately falls down (no pun intended) on its face. The film’s lack of subtlety, mediocre performances (with the exception of Douglas), and poor screenplay add up to create a failure.
D-Fens encounters problems with society along his way, but attacks the problems in a far too irrational and obvious manner. For example, D-Fens enters a shop to buy a soda and becomes outraged by the store’s high prices. He goes over to multiple items of merchandise, and emphasizes (out loud) how each one is overpriced. By the very first item, the point trying to be proven is clear; however, the man continues ranting on for several minutes, and even goes as far as destroying many of the shopkeeper’s shelves of goods. Throughout the film, Schumacher seems intent on “showcasing” his own issues with consumerism, crime, and societal laziness. However, he and screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith feel the need to “hammer the message home” using broad strokes, exaggerated scenarios, and lazy dialogue.
In addition to its scenario problems, Falling Down is also structurally flawed. Though it tries its damnedest, its two main plot lines (Douglas’s and Duvall’s) really never mesh as smoothly as they should. Because each story contains so much unnecessary exposition-ridden drama, the film feels episodic, as if two completely different tales are being told. To be fair, D-Fen’s drama with his family is necessary, as he is trying to reach them. However, whenever Predergast stops his police pursuits to have a scene with his needy wife or obnoxious co-workers, the drama rings false and feels pointlessly put into the movie. It also doesn’t help that most of the film’s supporting performances are bad; almost every moment involving a side character is scarred by the poor acting.
Falling Down, while presenting some neat concepts and an excellent Michael Douglas performance, is a mess. Its lack of subtlety is so “in your face” that it grows wearisome and often feels sloppily put together. Although his acting is pretty good, I have no idea what Robert Duvall is doing in this movie, as he seems to only be in it to tie together the ending. Douglas fans beware; leave this one lying on the ground.