Retro Review: ‘Doctor Detroit’

Actor, producer, screenwriter Dan Akroyd has been behind a number of true fan favorite 80’s classics, from The Blues Brothers to Ghostbusters. But there is one movie in his filmography during this era which was released in 1983 and was unfortunately largely forgotten by all but the devoted. This odd movie still has his talented fingerprints all over it and that movie was Doctor Detroit.

Geeky literature professor Clifford Skridlow happens upon a chance meeting with pimp Smooth Walker and his stable of women. He is taken in by the charms of these women and the coolness of Walker and agrees to become a business partner in the operation. He is oblivious to the fact that he has been set-up by Smooth to be a patsy. The pimp answers to a crime boss named Mom and he has told her that Cliff is actually a new pimp has just moved into town named Doctor Detroit and he has intentions of taking her territory. Having grown attached to the women he now works with, Clifford refuses to retreat from a challenge. Instead he dons an outlandish costume and crafts the strange character of Doctor Detroit. His reputation spreads throughout town though his new friends know the truth and help him keep his to personas going. Inevitably the two sides collide when one of his academic outings takes place at the same hotel that a citywide pimp gathering takes place.

As you may have gathered by reading that synopsis, Doctor Detroit is an incredibly strange comedy. So strange that by the time James Brown shows up to help the Doctor lead all of the pimps and prostitutes in Chicago in an impromptu synchronized dance it goes with the flow. Despite it all there is a distinct heart to this movie which makes the viewer willing to go along with the more off-the-wall aspects and enjoy it. All of the characters have a fun quirky charm that makes them easy to root for. True in real life pimps tend to be exploitative garbage bags, but Dan Akroyd being one who has a metal glove and talks in a croaky voice is great, especially since he is doing it out of a sense of nobility. In return Fran Dresher and the other women in his stable return his kindheartedness. Needless to say this is a far cry from the usual pimp/prostitute we often see in pop culture but it makes perfect sense within the world of this movie. Given that Doctor Detroit was produced as a testing ground to see how Dan Akroyd could function as a solo leading man, as Cliff/Detroit he is absolutely hysterical. As Cliff is a charming dweeb, and as Detroit he creates what a sheltered academic would expect a heroic pimp to be.

While studio had high hopes to be a box office smash, Doctor Detroit barely squeaked by financially. Meaning the sequel promised in the end credits Doctor Detroit 2: The Wrath of Mom, never took place. Despite the financial flopping, this raucous 80’s comedy has developed a bit of a cult following. The movie may be on the obscure side, but bring it up near someone who has seen it and no doubt they will light up and discuss how great and underrated it is.