Sam Strange Remembers: DOCTOR DETROIT

The story of how Mr. Chips became Scarface.

A lot of people ask me, "Dad, why did you make Doctor Detroit?" And to them I say, "What the fuck is Doctor Detroit?" And then they show me Doctor Detroit. And then I tell them, "Obviously, I made Doctor Detroit because I'm awesome."

It's true, too. You can watch a million films a day, but it's rare you'll come across something that can touch the majesty of this film. I am extremely proud of it.

Doctor Detroit is all about this Tightwad Buttnerd college professor named Pansy Des Moines. Pansy is played by the skinny, but still post-cool version of Dan Arkanoid. This Dan Arkanoid model is great for playing a nerd because we get the idea he's hardly acting at all.

When we first meet Pansy, he is speed walking. I rest my case. Speed walking is for assholes who want to feel superior to walkers but fear the ickiness of body sweat. To make matters worse, he's proud of his speed walking and verbally keeps track of it. To make matters even worse than that, this is the 1980s so you can see Arkanoid's wiggly penis tenting out his cute little umbro shorts with every speedy step he takes.

This profound display of nerdiness is not lost on fellow citizens of this 1980s universe, so you know it must be bad. Pansy's dedication to walking as fast as possible and calling it exercise gets the giggly attention of a limo full of prostitutes, their driver, and their pimp, Big Daddy Cincinnati.

These are professional sex workers, familiar with all manner of insecure and socially troubled men, and yet they just have to pull over their limo and share words with this asshole. Pansy is so not with-it that he thinks they actually like him, which in turn makes them actually like him.

This fateful meeting concludes, and the two parties go their separate ways. Pansy visits his father. He still lives at home, you see, even though he's a college professor. His dad is the principal at the very uptight private college he works for, Des Moines University pt II.

It comes as a bit of a shock when we learn that Pansy teaches not physics or string theory but Comparative Literature. See, in the 1980s Comparative Literature professors were still nerds rather than ponytail wearing hippies you could blow for an A. Perhaps this is the film where all that changed.

Things are tense at home because Dad is waiting for a big endowment check from some rich guy. At this point, that's fine with Pansy because he is also very tense and likes it that way. We are talking about a guy in his thirties who lives both with his parents and on a college campus. Pansy is like a suspension cable that can cut you in half if suddenly let loose.

Meanwhile, Big Daddy Cincinnati has a meeting with local crime kingpin, Mama, played by Larry "Bud" Melman. Bid Daddy owes Mama a lot of money. In an effort to escape his debt, he invents a terrifying pimp who he can dump this debt onto: Doctor Detroit. Now all he has to do is find a guy to play the Doctor in real life.

As if predetermined by fate, that night Big Daddy Cincinnati and his girls dine at the same Indian restaurant as Pansy. Immediately, Big Daddy starts working on breaking down Pansy's fun barriers. First with a little alcohol. Then some marijuana. Then four-way sex with his girls. Then cocaine. Then they murder a homeless person. Then more four-way sex (he's a virgin, so the first time barely counts).

By the time the sun has come up, Pansy is a changed man. He is no longer a nerd narratively, but since he's played by Dan Arkanoid, he's still a nerd to us. There are all kinds of nerd layers going on here. For instance, Big Daddy Cincinnati looks like a high school math teacher and one of the hookers is played by Fran Drescher.

Pansy enjoyed his night but wants to return to his boring college life. Unfortunately, Big Daddy Cincinnati skipped town and made Pansy responsible for his debt to Mama. To save his own skin, and the skin of his whores, he must somehow become Doctor Detroit, the scariest pimp ever.

So now we have Doctor Detroit, a pimp designed by a massive nerd, so bizarre and stupid that normal non-nerdy people simply cannot understand it and therefore shake before his presence. Dan Arkanoid dons a mad scientist wig, a yellow coat, and a fake metal hand. On top of that, he speaks like a terminally ill elderly woman. He also pees and poops himself.

When he and Mama finally have their big meet, there is a moment when Mama nearly calls Doctor Detroit on his badassary bluff, so he's forced to crush the throat of one of his girls with his metal hand. After that, Mama knows he means business. So she tries to kill him. While running away like a coward, Doctor Detroit drops his prop machine gun and accidentally kills all of Mama's men, forcing her to retreat.

All this Doctor Detroit stuff is great fun, but it's causing great havoc to Pansy's academic life. He can't stay awake in class and his father is on his ass about courting their big moneybag man who just flew into town. Nearly every time Pansy begins to deal with these issues, his whores show up with some life threatening issue. These bitches, man! If he's not paying doctors at various lady clinics, he's losing dough bribing nuns at various orphanages all over town. The money he gets from blackmailing politicians barely covers it.

It doesn't take Doctor Detroit long to realize that being a fake pimp is not all it's cracked up to be. The real money is in being a fake drug dealer. So he starts looking into that.

Everything comes to a head at a fancy banquet held in honor of the college's big donor. Across the building, James Brown simultaneously holds the "Player's Ball," a fancy banquet held in honor of Doctor Detroit. Meanwhile, Mama is back and means business. Pansy must make appearances at all three engagements at the same time.

So here's what he does: He buys the college with his prostitution money and soothes his father and anyone else who is upset about this with prostitutes. When no one's looking he shoots Mama in the head. After that, there's nothing left to do but party with James Brown. And party he does. If you thought Martin Short was a funny dancer, boy have I got a surprise for you. Hilarious!

In the end, Pansy gives up his life as a nerd and goes all in on the Doctor Detroit persona. But he also jumps headfirst into the drug business, particularly crystal meth, which he knows how to chemically manufacture thanks to his in-depth knowledge of secret Shakespearean drug codes. All his ladies are "retired." He also uses his college knowledge to sink Detroit, Michigan economically, so that he's the only thriving Detroit on planet Earth. The film ends with him eyes a senate run. This is the world we live in. Nothing ever changes.

(three stars)

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