Mr. Untouchable


Mr. Untouchable Review

It has to be the oddest situation of pointless one-upmanship imaginable. On the one side is Frank Lucas, glamorized urban criminal and self-proclaimed king of '70s Harlem heroin. His corporate, buttoned-down approach to people poisoning would eventually become the source of cinematic legend, polished and de-fanged by Ridley Scott and his soulless American Gangster. And on the other side is Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, king pimp of the same paradigm. To hear him tell it (in the insightful new documentary Mr. Untouchable), Lucas was an illiterate Carolina boy who embarrassed himself on the streets of New York. Instead, it was Barnes who created the mafia-subverting network of connections that would lead a city to swelter in a decade long grip of addiction.

Why anyone would want to win this contest remains a concept outside the actual narrative provided by filmmaker Marc Levin. With access to the actual figures fictionalized in Scott's crime drama, as well as an unusual amount of openness from said participants (most have done their time and are ready to rewrite history), we get the seedier side of the Me Decade in the Big Apple. Barnes describes his own pretend professionalism, taking credit for turning drug dealing into an "above board" case of supply and demand. His associates discuss their designer clothes, outlandish jewelry, and the lovely ladies that hung from their arms like erotic accessories. Thanks to some incredible archival footage, we witness the actual nude dope factories, bare-ass biz-natches cutting and bagging the killer powder.

Though he's visible all throughout Untouchable, Barnes is apparently bashful today. As part of his deal with the Witness Protection Program, he is only viewed here through thick shadows and well placed camera framing. Hands festooned with the trappings of wealth, and words laced with a less than apologetic tone, this is a man who is proud of his accomplishments, who sees nothing wrong in giving desperate, disenfranchised members of his own race the keys to their own destruction. Even worse, the aforementioned marginalizing of organized crime, the police, Lucas and his "gang," as well as all others who purport to diminish his influence, get a philosophical dressing down. Barnes (a version of whom does appear as part of Gangster in the less than imposing guise of Cuba Gooding Jr.) wants it known that he was the true master of Manhattan. Such bravado is fascinating -- at first.

Yet similar to Gangster's unrepentant tone, Mr. Untouchable feels more like a celebration than an expose. While undeniably entertaining (many in Barnes' sphere of influence have a quick witted slickness that's deceptively charming), Levin's perspective is too passive. He's clearly going for a "let them hang themselves" ideal, but these are men who made millions -- and spent a similar amount -- in the hedonistic pleasures provided from the weakness of others. We need some harsh criticizing, or at the very least, a dose of retrospective reality. At least Scott had the moral compass to include that hackneyed montage where a dead addict lies frozen, her clearly neglected child crying in P.S.A. pain. Levin just lets his subjects brag, boast, and belittle.

Indeed, the vast majority of Mr. Untouchable focuses on what that moniker insinuates. Barnes believes in his own myth, using the power and publicity from 30 years ago to constantly minimize his clear-cut culpability. Far more engaging than this fall's often underwhelming epic, Levin wants the facts to be as engaging as the standard cinematic crime story. Unfortunately, veracity is not Barnes', or his buddies', strong suit. Like much of the story of Harlem in the '70s, the truth is the least important part.

Naa naa naa naa can't touch me. Oh wait yes you can.

Facts and Figures

Run time: 92 mins

In Theaters: Friday 26th October 2007

Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures

Reviews 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 7

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew


Producer: , , Mary-Jane Robinson,

Starring: Leroy 'Nicky' Barnes as Himself, Don Ferrarone as Himself, Thelma Grant as Himself, Carol Hawkins-Williams as Himself, Joseph Jazz Hayden as Himself, Leon Scrap Batts as Himself