Sunday, April 10, 2011

Abar: The First Black Superman

Directed by Frank Packard.
1977. Rated PG, 87 minutes.
Tobar Mayo
J. Walter Smith
Roxie Young
Dee Turguand
Gladys Lum
Tony Rumford
Rupert Williams
Tina James

Let’s get this out of the way, immediately. Abar: The First Black Superman has as much in common with the Superman you’re thinking of as your dear old grandma slipping on a banana peel and breaking her hip. Aside from the Blaxploitation habit of interjecting the word ‘black’ into the title whenever possible (The Black Godfather, The Black Six, The Black Gestapo, etc), I’ve no idea why it’s given such a name. It could’ve easily been simply called “Abar”. This begs the question, what is this about, anyway?

It all starts with a subject that, if treated properly, can make a really good movie. Obviously, it’s the 1970s and Dr. Kincaid (Smith) has just moved his family into a brand new home in an affluent neighborhood.The problem is he and his family are black while all of his new neighbors are white. Within minutes, the white residents form a picket line in front of the Kincaid home and start engaging in menacing behavior. This is a situation that occurred with regularity across the U.S. during this era, so examination of such a topic feels warranted. Hindsight tells us those occasions when the black families were not successfully run off led to the phenomenon that became known as “white flight.” Basically, whites moved out of neighborhoods when blacks moved in. With all of this going through my head, I’m thinking this could be interesting. It certainly is, just not quite the way I expected.

By the way, Dr. Kincaid’s first name is not Abar. Abar (Mayo) is the leader of the local Black Panther styled organization the B.F.U., the Black Front of Unity. I’ve already told you it was only a few minutes after the Kincaids moved in that picket lines formed. Well, a minute after that it was announced on whatever radio station the B.F.U. was listening to that a black family moved into New Meadow Park and is having serious issues with the white folks. Abar and his crew mount their motorcycles and head over to help out the good doc. When they get there, all the Caucasians scatter. For the next 45 minutes to an hour Abar, who gets hired to be a live-in bodyguard for the Kincaids, takes care of anyone trying to do harm to them. Mind you, he has no superpowers so the title is starting to fade from our consciousness.

What keeps the entire movie from fading away is the massively inept filmmaking. Unintentional humor is off the charts in this one. It starts with the dialogue. Whoever wrote it apparently never had a real conversation. All of the words do sound like words people would actually say, but not at all the way the would say them. Each person dutifully waits his or her turn to speak while the other person completes their entire point. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you see it you’ll understand. To make matters worse, most of the actors deliver their lines as if they’ve no idea what they’re saying. It’s clear they’ve memorized their lines, but lack the chops to make them believable. On the other hand, Smith as Dr. Kincaid is overacting mightily. You can literally see him “acting”. When contrasted with the rest, it’s like he’s trying to do Olivier’s “Hamlet” in a fifth grade drama class.

The dialogue isn’t only to blame. Judging from the exterior shots, the Kincaid home seems to be about three different houses. The movie seems to have been shot using several different types of film as the look vacillates between them. The fight scenes are laughable. The B.F.U. mostly does nothing. Oh, and just to bring it back to the dialogue, Abar often uses a lot of words to tell Dr. Kincaid “I don’t like you, I’m only helping you out because you’re black.” This brings us to MLK. From time to time the filmmakers inject excerpts of his “I Have a Dream” speech while some character appears to be in deep though. It’s jarring because it is such a great speech in such a bad movie.

What about this whole Superman thing? The reason Dr. Kincaid bought this troublesome house is because its close to the hospital where he works. He’s engrossed in inventing some sort of serum that will better mankind. Ohhh…kkkkaaaayyyy…shouldn’t that make this “The First Black Captain America”? If you don’t get it, you will whenever that movie comes out. Anyhoo, Kincaid has been testing this on his lab rabbits, PETA be damned. He’s also decided that Abar is the perfect specimen to be the first human given the serum. He propositions Abar and assures his would-be guinea pig that he’s serious by shooting the rabbit. No worries, animal freaks. The rabbit doesn’t even blink. Abar examines the gun himself and responds with this gem: “You know I don’t believe this, right?” Huh?

Long story short, unlike this review, Abar eventually drinks the serum and flees Dr. Kincaid’s house. The doc suddenly think Abar’s gone mad and goes after him, looking to kill him before serum takes effect in three hours. Needless to say, this fails and we get a look at Abar’s new found abilities. Forget about flying and heat vision and all that stuff, though he does start dressing in a snazzy blue suit with a red shirt. Yup, that’s as close to a Superman reference as you’ll get. Take it and like it. Abar can now control your thoughts and actions. He actually makes a purse-snatcher run back a number of blocks to the old lady he robbed and give her purse back. That’s just one of many moments that aren’t meant to be, but are uproariously funny.

The whole movie is simply bonkers in its execution. If you really try to do a serious examination of all the things wrong with it, you’ll give yourself a headache. You’re much better off resigning yourself to the fact it’s so bad, it’s awesome!

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