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Kathy Shaidle

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February 21, 2012 - 10:00 pm

In Falling Down, Michael Douglas plays William Foster (a.k.a. “D-FENS” after his vanity license plate.)

With a buzzcut you could set your clock by, white short-sleeved dress shirt, tie and wimpy pocket protector, Douglas’s iconic physical appearance in this movie – it’s been “name checked” numerous times since (see The Simpson’s ill-fated Frank “Grimey” Grimes) – was presumably styled to remind the viewer of both Bernard Goetz and Charles Whitman.

Stuck in a sweltering Los Angeles traffic jam, driven over the edge by sensory overload — every other car sports a bitchy bumper sticker that’s practically each owner’s personal declaration of war — Foster abandons his vehicle in the middle of the highway, explaining to the angry driver behind him, “I’m going home.”

Foster’s one-day Oz-like odyssey takes him through the seedier ‘hoods of the City of Angels. Like Dorothy, he meets colorful, cartoonish people along the way – a Korean store owner, Hispanic “gang bangers,” a neo-Nazi, a fake Vietnam vet, a rich plastic surgeon – but instead of collecting new traveling companions, Foster keeps accidentally, and somewhat comically, upgrading his arsenal: the baseball bat he acquires from the store owner is eventually replaced by a switchblade and finally a gym bag full of assault rifles and handguns.

Foster insists to everyone he meets that he just wants to get home in time for his daughter’s birthday party, but like lots of bitter, divorced, dead beat dads, you suspect Foster’s The Searchers-meets-The Swimmer mission is actually designed to perturb his ex-wife, who’s taken out a restraining order against him (albeit for less than compelling reasons).

As Foster’s mission of mayhem gains strength, LAPD Detective Prednergast sets out to stop him. Played by Robert Duval, Prednergast has a lot in common with his prey: a “lost” daughter, a twitchy wife, and most importantly, obsolescence — it’s the detective’s last day on the force.

People misremember Falling Down as having a higher body count than it actually does. Foster kills one despicable character in self-defense; his other “victims” are merely shook up — as is Foster himself, who doesn’t exactly retain expert control over his unwieldy weaponry.

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