Filmmakers have taken quite a liking to Detroit in recent years. Its, as a writer for Time put it during the magazine's grand experiment yearlong reporting extravaganza on the city, "gritty backdrop" and Michigan's lucrative film incentive program has bolstered the production of a number of Hollywood blockbusters (some of which were serious duds) and TV shows across the state.
And somehow, as baffling as it is, an absolute gem shot four years ago that bares the name of a Detroit enclave starring the (presumably) not-insane half of the famous Lethal Weapon duo has relatively gone unnoticed.
Are we to find it surprising that the purportedly uplifting tale "Highland Park" staring Danny Glover as a superstitious janitor has been disregarded — especially amid the present day situation the city currently faces, which, so it seems, is a universal acceptance from local officials that things really are as bad as it seems?
(Things are turning around, right? I mean, during the presentation of Mayor Dave Bing's entirely symbolic budget proposal, Detroit CFO Jack Martin said that "the deficit is increasing at a decreasing rate." The sky is clearly the limit, dear reader.)
The most obvious reason why the comedy(?) "Highland Park" hasn't fared all too well is that it's currently being shown in a total of zero movie theaters. Those with On Demand rejoice: Do a little digging and it'll pop up.
So where are the reviews! A quick Google search provided a total of one.
The near-blackout coverage — unlike the "Red Dawn" remake, which also saw the light of day much later than anticipated, only to subsequently dazzle absolutely no one when it was finally released — is because "Highland Park" is a terrible movie and we probably want to forget about it.
Or do we?
We can assume "Highland Park" had good intentions based on initial reports from 2009 when production began. From MLive:
The movie is one of the latest to film in Michigan, and this one will benefit the area in more ways than one.
The film is about a teacher who wins the library and decides to use the money to reopen Highland Park's McGregor Library.
The real McGregor Library closed in 2002 because the city of Highland Park did not have the funds to keep it open.
Some of the money made from the film is expected to go toward reopening the library.
As commendable as providing profits from the film toward reopening a shuttered, storied library is, it's difficult to assume a large amount of money will be made with a straight to On Demand release. It had a budget of $5 million. And, lest we forget, it is a terrible, terrible film.
So, here's a condensed version of events of what happens in the film. Note: This is not an exact version of events, for "Highland Park" gives us too much. The film must be seen to gather its full effect. Quotes perhaps aren't exact, but the effect of each golden line mentioned remains in tact. This is a spoiler alert.
Meet Ed, a janitor of a Highland Park high school played by Danny Glover. We immediately learn Ed was fired a couple years back by Principal Lloyd Howard, played by Billy Burke of Twilight fame.
Rounded out by a group of a few more teachers (the recovering lush! the football coach! the theater teacher!), this ragtag bunch has a tradition of getting together every week at the local watering hole to watch the lotto numbers come in. They play the same numbers every week. They've done this for 10 years — an amount of money spent on thousands of tickets they'd probably rather forget; the same numbers each week and still, somehow, they haven't won.
Lloyd asks the group early on if the numbers they've played — their "lucky" numbers — are in fact not lucky. He then suggests they play different numbers. And then he asks a member of the group, "Do you think we're losers?" No one really seems to know what to do. Things seem bleak.
After another week of losing, Ed decides he needs to head up north and get away from it all. He says he'll handle buying the tickets for the following week. Dude even offers to cover a couple others monetary contributions who are simply down on their luck — the drunk (for what's implied as being stupidly obvious. He's a drunk!) and the football coach (reasons unknown).
A couple scenes later we see Ed again at the gas station in the process of purchasing the lotto tickets. He babbles on and on about how the group hasn't won the lotto yet to the station attendant. Will he play the same numbers? Will he change it up and pick something different? We don't know because the scene ends and cuts to the group back at the bar, watching television, waiting for the lotto results. Is this it? How can they keep on if they lose again?
...wouldn't you know it? They win! Ed may be nowhere to be found with the winning tickets, but why would he have played different numbers this time? They have won the lottery and they know it. All the difficult, trying times finally feel worth it.
Then everyone sort-of just loses their shit.
The football coach, played by John Carroll Lynch (the deputy from "Shutter Island"), decides to buy a giant RV just like his pops used to take him camping with. At some point, he realizes dad's memory is starting to go and expresses concern that he can't remember his son won THE FREAKING LOTTERY, MAN. And because memory loss was apparently a funny idea to roll with to the script writers, the football coach later quips something along the lines of, "Heh. I guess it'll nice for him, winning the lottery every day!"
It gets better.
One classic "Highland Park" moment in particular showcases Lloyd's wife pouting — literally — that he had the audacity to purchase the recovering alcoholic teacher a vehicle, while leaving their family without (paraphrasing here) "a tricked out SUV with television sets in the headrests and leather seats."
Lloyd, the badass he is, punts the door that leads to the garage and says: "Like this one?"
Gosh, that Lloyd. What a guy.
Lloyd shifts the momentum of the film toward a public battle with the mayor. He pulls a couple fantastic PR maneuvers, backing her into a corner where she'll be donating money to help open the long shuttered library. He's going to personally donate some money to the school to hire back the people that were laid off.
People are shown picking up garbage. The group's cherished pub is shown to be full of patrons. A couple of the teachers have sex. Things are good.
No one has seen Ed for, like, a week, though. Ed sort-of just went up north and said "Ah, screw it."
But, then: Ed, to his horror, reads the paper. We're lead to believe he is reading about the wonderful things that are happening back in his hometown. So he immediately gets in the truck and books it.
(Here, imagine 10 long minutes where everyone is waiting around for Ed to get home with the winning tickets.)
Everyone decides to go home because Ed, in such an Ed-like way, is running late. When he finally gets home he breaks the news to his wife: He had picked different numbers. They did not win the lotto.
After a few minutes of Ed trying to explain that Things Will Be Okay, and that Everything Will Be Like It Was A Week Ago his wife shows him the newspaper. Things are changing around here, Ed. You won the lotto. People want to do good.
In what amounts to the probably funniest part of the film, Ed, in utter disbelief, simply says: "Fuck."
Then everyone's life unravels. Lloyd's wife can't believe it. Lloyd can't believe it. The theater coach can't believe it. The football coach, for whatever reasons, comes off like he doesn't know if he should tell his dad. It's getting pretty heavy.
The mayor goes after Lloyd and throws him out to the media hungry wolves. Lloyd is shown sitting in the living room with his wife who shrewdly tells our hero, "Remember, no comment."
Ah, but Lloyd can't be held down. He hits his front lawn and (bizarrely) decides to bellow: "Why are you people even here! Why aren't you on the lawns of Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac! I hope this is a wake up call for everyone to get up off their asses and do something!"
Now, if the message here is Wall Street Is Bad, Money Is Bad, it sure is confusing. Literally up until the end of the film, there's multiple scenes where Lloyd and others berate Ed for screwing up the bet. For no reason are we lead to believe that Lloyd or anyone else is no less greedy than a Wall Street exec.
In an attempt to get back at the mayor, Lloyd finds out there's some serious cronyism at hand and backroom deals being made at the mayor's behest. Everyone in the mayor's inner-circle apparently has been receiving some pretty nice kickbacks. So Lloyd has someone hack her email account because this is the digital age and if you want to blackmail someone after finding out you actually didn't win $10 million then just do it, man. This ends up working, of course, and things are sort-of good again, or something.
Toward the movies conclusion, a billboard is shown: Lloyd is running for mayor. Why wouldn't he be?
Another wonderful decision made by the creators of "Highland Park" was to pack every typical landmark of Detroit into a 90-minute film. Michigan Central Station and the Packard Plant both get nods, and a scene is shot in American Coney Island. The film has it all.
So, in short: If you want to revitalize your neighborhood or the entire city then win the lotto. Simple.
Find a way to see "Highland Park." Or don't.