Detroit 9000

Unavailable on video and not screened since 1973, Detroit 9000 is a neatly schizoid period piece. Part funkily garbed blaxploitation flick and part big-city political exposé, this is also the kind of movie that cheerfully leers at a scantily clad salt-and-pepper lesbian couple through an open window, lingering to take in both kisses and catfights. In What It Is, What It Was, a new history of blaxploitation from Miramax Books being hyped along with the film, director Arthur Marks claims that 9000 only became a blaxploitation flick during marketing and that this is really one of the best action flicks of 1973. In 1998, the chases and gunplay are mostly forgettable while the period flourishes have become the main event.

Detroit 9000 opens at a black politician's fundraiser (the lovely ladies of Motown throw their diamonds into a basket only to have them stolen) and ends with an orgiastic 25- minute chase sequence involving what looks like the entire Detroit police department. In between we meet Danny Bassett (Alex Rocco), a dead-end white cop with sinus trouble and an unwillingness to play black power–era politics. The unpopular Bassett is put on the case mostly to take heat from the liberal press and black activists, but starts making headway after he's paired with a black supercop, Jesse Williams (Daktari's Hari Rhodes). Since the jewel heist is solved mostly by accident, 9000's central mystery is the content of Bassett's character. Williams can't figure out if his partner actively dislikes black people or is just a municipal dinosaur trying to cope with not being in charge anymore. Detroit 9000's biggest surprise is that it's the smooth black dick Williams who's most moved by his partner's desperation, the hypereducated New Negro mourning the Man even as he coolly pushes him off center stage.

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