The L.A. Riot Spectacular Movie Review

A film that works overtime to offend each and every ethnic group and economic class that makes up the smoggy purgatory of Los Angeles while simultaneously patting itself on the back for being so putatively daring, The L.A. Riot Spectacular is a cynical exercise in erstwhile satire that's all the more frustrating for the wasted opportunity it represents.

Like a series of linked MAD TV skits done without regard to network censors - the humor is about that intelligent - the film presents the 1992 Rodney King beating and subsequent riots as a grand comic opera of greed and stupidity, going after everybody involved with equal vigor. One can get a feel for how writer/director Marc Klasfeld intends to approach his subject a few minutes in, when the car chase and police beating of King (T.K. Carter) is done as a jokey game, with a police helicopter pilot serving as the announcer ("and they're off!"), while the cops themselves, having pulled King over, place beats over the ethnicity of the guy inside. Then Snoop Dogg shows up - serving, appropriately enough, as the film's narrator and chorus - to introduce the film proper, while fireworks go off behind him.

Shot on shaky video and starring a grab-bag of lesser stars (talented though, for the most part) in the Hollywood firmament, The L.A. Riot Spectacular seems to want to shove its viewers faces in the muck and mire of the incident by over-the-top satire. Thus we get King in his hospital bed with 40 ounce-bottles of malt liquor hooked up to his IV, a Simi Valley jury composed entirely of uniformed police officers, and one scene where two lines of gangsters (one Crips, the other Bloods) march one at a time to an open grave where they simultaneously shoot each other, and then fall into the pit, while the next two step up. There are moments of inspiration, such as the scene when after the riot has reached a critical mass of barbarism, a single stray bullet pings off the Beverly Hills sign, and George Hamilton steps out and, in a booming Charlton Heston voice that carries clear across the L.A. basin, announces that the "People of the Hills" are displeased, and wish the unpleasantness to end.

Music video director Klasfeld has ideas to spare, obviously, and an admirable desire to storm the barricades of politically correct discourse, but that unfortunately doesn't mean his film can in the end add up to anything more than an initially shocking and eventually tiresome novelty piece. The Rodney King riots were a dark patch in the nation's history, to be sure, and an event in which nobody on any side of the fence seemed to acquit themselves well, a wonderful subject for the right satirist. There are times when Klasfeld seems (intentionally or not) to be echoing the savage fury of Oliver Stone's full-bore culture assault Natural Born Killers or Spike Lee's guerrilla race relations satire Bamboozled, but he has neither of those filmmakers' smarts or skills.

There's nothing wrong with treating a tragic and absurd event with absurdist comedy - but maybe taking the Airplane! approach to one of the nation's episodes of civil unrest wasn't the best of ideas.

Reviewed at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival.


The L.A. Riot Spectacular Rating

" Grim "

Rating: NR, 2005


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