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The Mighty Quinn

Denzel Washington is an excellent and charismatic actor, but he's limited in range. He does best playing intelligent characters who keep their cards close to their chests — even when yelling. What he isn't so good at is light comedy, which his track record proves (Heart Condition or The Preacher's Wife, anyone?) This is what makes 1989's The Mighty Quinn one his more interesting pre-stardom roles (it was released the same year as Glory, the film that won him an Oscar). Quinn is a murder mystery set in Jamaica: Denzel is Xavier Quinn, a police commander put between hard rock and bad politics when he's told to arrest his best friend Maubee (Robert Townsend) for the murder of a rich white man, and before he's had time to investigate. Quinn has a good cast — M. Emmet Walsh, Mimi Rogers, James Fox, and Ester Rolle among them — but director Carl Schenkel is clumsy, and for a mystery, it doesn't have an involving story. It's too familiar, with old plot devices like Xavier being on the outs with his wife and politicians being indifferent to the truth, only wanting quick results. The Jamaican setting makes up for some of the familiarity (as does the reggae score), but what makes Quinn worth watching is Washington, who shows the charismatic cool that made him a star, but also allows himself to relax and have fun with it, which makes him all the more attractive. The best scene (and the only great part of the film) is when Xavier — who has always hated the Bob Dylan song "The Mighty Quinn" — gets drunk at a club and for the first time in a long time starts playing piano. At first he plays a bluesy number, but then the local band joins in and turns the song into a reggae version of "The Mighty Quinn." Quinn gives up to the song and joins in, and Denzel smiles that great big smile of his and sings along. It's a great moment, and one wishes that the film was better to deserve it. MGM's DVD offers a letterboxed transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Trailer, keep-case.

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