Special Unit (2017) — Run away from this terrible premise

“I never trust trusting people. I’m not a truster.”

Flinthart’s review: Until I followed up watching Special Unit by doing a little research on the web, I thought it was made in 2019 — and I had the absolute best opening for this review. It would have gone like this: ‘In 2019, two truly horrific events rocked the world… and the coronavirus wasn’t the worst.’


Instead, I’m gonna tell you about the absolute worst movie-concept which became an actual film with real actors that, prior to this completely regrettable night, I had ever seen.

In 2002, some glue-sniffing lunatic decided to make Tiptoes, a movie about dwarfs and dwarfism. The film starred Matthew McConaughey and Gary Oldman as twin brothers, only Oldman was meant to be a little person while McConaughey was his usual full-sized self. This led to Oldman doing a hell of a lot of acting through a specially-built couch with fake human legs in front of the spot where his lower body disappeared into the trick upholstery — and really the entire film is just catastrophically dumb. It’s a tribute to Oldman’s talent that he’s still working, to be honest.

Anyway. Up until tonight, I honestly thought Tiptoes had the absolute worst central premise of any film that had a budget and took itself seriously. (And no, Tiptoes isn’t a comedy… God help us, it’s meant to be a serious, emotionally-charged drama.) But then a good friend of mine talked about an old film called Dinosaurus and I found it on YouTube and the next thing on the playlist was Special Unit and curiosity kicked in and I looked, and then I looked again, and I checked to be sure, and well…

…here we are.

Like many excruciatingly vile cinematic excresences, Special Unit warns you ahead of time that you’re entering dangerous waters. The director is one Christopher Titus, who I understand to be ostensibly a stand-up comic in the USA. The script was written — by no great coincidence — by Christopher Titus, and it should come as no surprise to you that Christopher Titus also plays the lead character, LAPD detective Garrett Fowler, a corrupt, borderline-alcoholic “maverick cop” with a penchant for burning through his assigned partners. Now, since Special Unit is nominally a comedy, it’s really no problem that Garrett Fowler is a shoddy, foul-mouthed stereotype. But that three-for-three count… that bit where you see director/writer/lead all attached to the same name?

Yeah. That’s the kind of warning light that Homer Simpson ignored at Chernobyl back in April ‘86. So — for the love of all things holy, for the sake of your brain, for your very soul, read this review and then turn around and walk the hell away from Special Unit the movie. No. Scratch that. Run. Run far and fast, and never look back.

Why? Well, here’s that central concept thing. Detective Garrett Fowler, a hard-nosed, corrupt maverick LAPD detective is on his last warning in the Van Nuys precinct. His captain, who wants nothing more than to see Fowler gone, is delighted when the Mayor of Van Nuys (played by Cynthia Watros, who behaves as if she’s in an actual comedic movie and not some kind of stomach-churning disaster on video) assigns Fowler a new task. For you see, the Mayor is Fowler’s ex, and the split was acrimonious, and she wants to see Fowler fail and be thrown ignominiously off the force, and so…

…no. I can’t put it better than this quote which was probably the logline for the original script and pitch: “Due to the fairness in disabilities act the Van Nuys PD is forced to hire four handicapped undercover detectives and their training officer happens to be the worst cop in L.A.”

Yup. The entire film is hung on the idea of people with disabilities becoming LAPD detectives under the guidance of (quoting from the film here) “…an asshole”.

Let that sink in.

So — are there endless jokes at the expense of the guy with the speech impediment? Why yes! How did you guess?

Does the woman with dwarfism get knocked down when she shoots her gun? Oh, absolutely.

Is the nominally-autistic guy blessed with superhuman mental skills and utterly goofy interpersonal abilities? Damn straight!

I could go on. I’m not going to. It’s not funny.

Titus must have had an inkling of the disaster he was courting. He tries to walk some kind of a line. Here and there you get moments such as that voiced by ‘Mac’ the palsied stutterer played by Michael Aronin: ‘What I’m really afraid of is not being seen’.

Yes, folks: what people with disabilities want is to be portrayed on screen as idiots too stupid to be trusted with cutlery, because that’s better than ‘not being seen’. And of course, the film revolves around these misfits excelling against the odds, thwarting crime and bringing down the bad guys and teaching their mentor how to be a whole man again. But… yeahh, fork that noise. Bottom line: the movie’s one long string of “retard” jokes. And what kind of soulless, sociopathic idiot figured you could milk a premise like that for comedy while still somehow respecting the people whose disabilities underpin every single ‘joke’ that made it to the screen?

There’s a lot more that could be said. I could pick apart the limping, pathetic, miserable, script in detail — but I’d be giving the whole vomitous thing oxygen it really doesn’t need. Instead I’m gonna say this: Some films are fun because they try hard, and fail miserably. Ed Wood’s stuff — Plan 9 From Outer Space and the rest — is desperately bad, but it’s so goddam sincere in the effort to be Actual Cinema that you can’t help laughing, and finding a soft spot for it. But Special Unit? No. It doesn’t even try. It sets out to exploit ugly, tasteless humour and pretends that it’s got ‘something important to say’ as an excuse.

Understand this: I’m in no sense ‘woke.’ There’s a whole lot of damned stupid shit being done in the name of identity politics and ‘equality’ these days, and someone, somehow needs to step up and bring some reality to bear on it all. But Christopher Titus is not that guy, and Special Unit is not that film. This is a nasty, creepy, repugnant bit of viciously exploitative film-making that tries to cover its suppurating, filthy ass with a wilted figleaf of ‘honesty.’ It’s a horrible piece of work, and you should avoid it.

Finally: digging around, picking up background on this insufficiently fossilized coprolith, I discovered it was developed from an earlier made-for-TV film by the same name, ALSO written by Christopher Titus — but directed by Bryan Cranston, of all people.

You’d think he’d know better, eh?

Now excuse me. I’m going to go get blackout drunk and hope I wake up with no memory of the last three hours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s