Detroit 9000

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Detroit 9000

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Denigrated as exploitative, borderline-racist trash during the era in which they were made, then mostly forgotten during the Cosbified '80s, early-'70s blaxploitation films have made a comeback of sorts in the '90s, as such filmmakers as the Hughes Brothers, Bill Duke, and Quentin Tarantino have implemented their fashions and recurring themes to great effect. And while it's difficult to deny that such classics as Shaft and Superfly are effective action films, they also pale in comparison to later, better-written, more intellectually and politically oriented films like Deep Cover and Menace II Society. Detroit 9000, a 1973 thriller recently re-released by Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Films, lacks the stylistic polish and visual flair of, say, Shaft, but makes up for it with a large dose of '90s-style moral and political ambiguity. Directed by blaxploitation specialist Arthur Marks (Friday Foster, Bucktown) from a script by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Orville Hampton, Detroit 9000 follows a pair of detectives—one white, morally conflicted, and pragmatic (Alex Rocco), the other an African-American straight arrow (Hari Rhodes)—as they join forces to track down the men behind the high-stakes heist of a political fundraiser for an ambitious black politician. For its first 40 minutes or so, Detroit 9000 is pretty standard TV-style fare, with plenty of racial slurs thrown in for good measure. In its second half, however, it develops into something far richer and more complex, as the motives behind everyone involved, from corrupt politicians to a college-educated call girl to the two leads, become increasingly cloudy. It would probably be a mistake to call Detroit 9000 a good movie—parts of it are pretty silly, and whenever characters are shot, they look like they've been hit with orange paintball pellets—but it is an interesting, thoroughly watchable film, and considering its genre and origins, that's something of an achievement.

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