I hope that I am one of the last to hop on the bandwagon when it comes to this flick. I really, really do.
Nothing but pure eighties goodness.
Sgt Jericho Jackson is the toughest cop in Detroit. He’s up against car magnate Peter Dellaplane, a psychopath with a lust for power who is murdering his way through union leaders. After being framed for murder, Jackson teams up with Dellaplane’s exotic mistress to bring the man down once and for all. Action ensues.
I miss the eighties. People call it “the decade that taste forgot”, and not without one or two good reasons I suppose, but cinematically speaking it was a pinnacle the likes of which we will not see again. Reagan, Thatcher, the Cold War, yuppies, home video… All this and more created a perfect storm of political, social and economic conditions that resulted in a tidal wave of movie goodness from The Empire Strikes Back at one end, to Batman at the other. A case could be made that there is one man more responsible for this cavalcade of awesome than anyone else. And no, I don’t mean George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. Would the real Joel Silver please stand up?
Silver produced fourteen movies between Xanadu in 1980 and Lethal Weapon 2 in ’89, setting up his own production company – Silver Pictures – halfway through the decade. Among those fourteen, seven are still considered seminal flicks of their time with at least three more thought of fondly by connoisseurs of cheese, including today’s jaunt into the history books: Action Jackson. This Carl Weathers vehicle has everything you would expect from a maverick cop flick but with that one extra ingredient that had always eluded the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers of the world: a sense of humour. You might laugh at all those other films but you laugh with this one, thanks mainly to the sheer charisma of the leading man. Why Carl Weathers never became a superstar is a total mystery to me.
Action Jackson was Craig R. Baxley’s directorial debut after years of 2nd unit and stunt work for both film and tv, including every episode of The A-Team. With that sort of background, you expect this movie to live up to the man’s name (“Action”, not “Baxley”) and you will not be disappointed. It is one of the most stunt-heavy of the maverick cop movies, with plenty of explosions and people falling off tall things to break up the talky moments. The sheer excess of this type of thing is where a lot of the humour comes from.
Weathers plays Jackson with a world-weariness that it is very humanising. He’s not some one-dimensional supercop like Marion Cobretti. He is as quick to charm an informant as he is to punch out a bad guy, and his punning rivals even John Matrix (“How do you like your ribs?” being a personal favourite of mine). The able support comes from Craig T. Nelson as the wonderfully slimy and amoral Dellaplane and Vanity as his heroin-addicted, nightclub singer mistress. A young Sharon Stone pops up briefly as Mrs Dellaplane, and there is even the mini Predator reunion of Bill Duke as Captain Armbruster (doesn’t he sound like a pirate?) and Sonny Landham as a dealer.
As I said, the humour in the flick is mostly that of absurdity. There are a couple of neat running gags, such as the only two uniform cops in Detroit, or the young purse-snatcher who faints every time he crosses Jackson’s path, but the big laughs come from the typical eighties sense of overkill. For example, say you’re part of an elite hit-team sent to take out a man working late in his office. Do you (a) quietly break into the building and discreetly shoot him in the head? Or (b) rappel down the outside and smash through a window, then blast him in the chest with a grenade launcher, sending his flaming body falling 30 storeys to land in the middle of a restaurant? If the thought of option b took you to your happy place, then this is the movie for you.
Action Jackson is one of those films that I really should have seen already. Of course I had heard of it, and I knew the trailer from back in the day, but the film itself seems to have fallen off the landscape a bit. It’s not as well-known or as talked about as some of the other flicks of the era, but it definitely deserves to be. Why?