The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Keith David
Keith David has one of the most recognizable voices in the world. Having narrated dozens of documentaries (he’s the voice of all Ken Burns’s productions), commercials and voiced many famous cartoons (including Spawn and CORALINE), David's never lacked work. Still, considering the man's cool look and presence, not to mention his terrific acting chops, it's a shame he's still something of a cult icon as he deserved to be a major star. In a way he reminds me of the late, great Steve James, a martial artist who always played the sidekick, but was usually more charismatic than the hero (see AMERICAN NINJA for a good example of that).
Nevertheless, David's carved out a great career for himself as a character actor. He's been a part of some of Hollywood's most iconic films (THE THING, THEY LIVE, PLATOON, BIRD, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, a few lines in ROAD HOUSE, etc) and has always worked steadily, being used to great effect recently in the Wachowskis' CLOUD ATLAS. This week, he's playing mob muscle in Shane Black's THE NICE GUYS and one hopes that he'll get the chance to scrap with fellow bad ass Russell Crowe. If not it'll be a huge missed opportunity.
While it's a shame David never got a cool, solo action vehicle to test his mettle, there's a good group of directors out there that have recognized his talent and given him a chance to shine. One of his best parts was as the paternal gangster Kirby in Allen & Albert Hughes's DEAD PRESIDENTS. An absolutely amazing war-urban action film, this is the movie that – for me – the Hughes's have yet to equal. While Larenz Tate is the star and Bokeem Woodbine steals the show, David has a gem of a role as a one-legged crime-boss who takes Tate's character under-his-wing, encouraging him to (disastrously) use his Green Beret skills to rip-off an armored car containing out-of-use currency. Intriguingly, despite being the guy that makes Tate go bad, David isn't portrayed as a villain, and actually stays somewhat sympathetic throughout, a testament to the man's craft. If you haven't seen this one, I highly recommend checking it out.
I was about thirteen when Gargoyles premiered as part of the Disney weekday cartoon syndication package. I was way too old to be into their run-of-the-mill cartoons like Aladdin, Bonkers or Darkwing Duck, but once Gargoyles premiered it started to get some pretty major buzz, including a write-up in the magazine that was my bible at the time, “Sci-Fi Universe.” I soon became a major fan and I'm sure I saw all of the sixty-plus episodes at least a few times each. The story-telling was superb, but it also wasn't entirely family friendly and Disney scrapped it after about a year. I was thrilled when it came back as part of the Saturday morning lineup on ABC, but the new “Goliath Chronicles” version of Gargoyles wasn't the same at all. Far more cuddly and most significantly minus original show-runner Greg Weisman, “The Goliath Chronicles” was a total mess and it only took one episode for me to realize the show I was loved was dead and gone. It's a shame this run sometimes gets lumped into the canon, as it's a sequel series in name only.
I'd wager MARKED FOR DEATH is one of Steven Seagal's best films, but it's not the pony-tailed star that really makes it worth watching. David has that dubious honor, playing a high school football coach who teams with his old 'Nam buddy Seagal to clear-out a gang of Rasta drug dealers from his neighborhood, led by Basil Wallace's Screwface. David should have been the lead, with him giving off mad amounts of charisma in what could have just been a sidekick part but winds up being elevated to near co-lead status on the merits of his personality alone. To give Seagal his due, the man was pretty lean and mean in this one, and the dialogue was sharp (“one thought he could fly, the other thought he was God. They were both wrong.”).
Well, really now – what else could it be but the famous fight with the late Roddy Piper (a former Good/Bad/Badass himself) from THEY LIVE. According to legend, David and Piper improvised the whole scene, with John Carpenter (another badass) sitting back in amazement at what he wrought. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I sure hope it is.
In addition to THE NICE GUYS, David's got a starring part in Oprah Winfrey's show Greenleaf, and a good half-dozen parts coming up in the second half of 2016 alone. Clearly, the man is still in major demand.
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