Sunday, 5 July 2009

Action Jackson (1988)

Better known as Apollo Creed in the Rocky series, Carl Weathers received further infamy when Mitch Hurwitz decided to cast him in Arrested Development to play himself, constantly referred to as the Actor Carl Weathers, the cheapskate thespian mentor to Tobias Funke (David Cross). Considering this revival of his screen presence, I firmly believe there’s one Carl Weathers performance that demands reconsideration, particularly in the terrain of enjoyably bullshit 1980s action films, and that is his character, Jericho Jackson, better known as... Action Jackson.

Now Action Jackson was produced by Joel Silver, the cigar-chomping, loudly obnoxious, sports-shirt wearing mogul who fronted capital for the Lethal Weapon movies, Die Hard 1 & 2, Commando, Predator 1 & 2, The Last Boyscout, and the Matrix movies. Undoubtedly conceived as a star vehicle for Carl Weathers, Action Jackson is in line with the Joel Silver action movie formula with the opening sequence covering a spectacular double-murder by an assassin squad that crashes through an office window from a helicopter in order to blow up their target – Ed O’Ross (Dimitri from Six Feet Under) – in a protracted death scene that ends with him being shot with a grenade launcher that turns him into a flaming pile shooting out of the fiftieth floor. Then there is a tremendous amount of set-up for Action Jackson’s introduction, a regular Dirty Harry in Detroit City, specifically a laboured sequence where two beat cops (including Biff from Back to the Future) pick up a purse-snatcher and evoke the considerable mythos of Jackson (“Jackson is so violent, we won’t even let him use a gun”). The spacious offices of the Detroit police is filled with colourful prostitutes, mountains of paperwork and an aloof yet angry chief Captain Armbruster (Bill Duke!). The young purse-snatcher tries to make a run for it in the police station but none of the doofus cops can catch him until he runs into the desk of Jericho Jackson, spilling coffee all over his paperwork. There’s a dramatic pause then an even more dramatic zoom in onto Carl Weathers who sneers to the kid, “Mellow out,” which my friend Seymour found to be the height of lameness. Jackson has been relegated to a desk for putting automobile tycoon the murdering son of Peter Dellaplane (Craig T. Nelson with a silver slick hair dye) in the hospital, which is explained to us in a trademark cop scene where Jackson is chewed out by his chief:

ARMBRUSTER: “You nearly tore that boy’s arm off!”
JACKSON: “So? He had a spare.”

We also find out during the course of this conversation with the angry chief that Action Jackson is also a former star of track and field, a Harvard graduate of law, and a lot of other amazing talents that cement him as multi-talented hero of our times. Of course, the Man of the Year awards unfairly go to Dellaplane who is always seen shaking hands with rich white dudes at fancy high society dinners, which should be enough to convince you that he is of course evil, an ambitious crimelord who wants to control the car industry through murdering opponents and installing his own puppet union leader. More familiar to myself as an All-American stalwart thanks to the sitcom Coach, Nelson inflects his performance with a haughty air of entitlement, providing an American version of what Alan Rickman did in Die Hard, the refined intelligent villain to the average joe hero. We get to watch Dellaplane be evil, such as breaking the arm of his martial arts instructor through underhanded tactics and delivering pseudo-philosophical nuggets like “My cars are a hobby, my real interest is power.” Naturally Dellaplane and Jackson have plenty of simmering confrontations during then movie, like this one at the fancy ball:

DELLAPLANE: “You have this nick-name, what was it? Excitement, enthusiasm,
esprit de corps-

I’m glad they reminded us what Jackson’s nick-name was as they’ve only mentioned it, what, like over a HUNDRED times in the film’s first twenty minutes. It doesn’t let up either, especially when Jackson later is stuck with Vanity, the junkie mistress of Dellaplane who becomes Jackson’s annoying partner-in-crime and love interest despite Jackson’s chaste treatment of her (Vanity as her advances are rebuffed once again, complains “I thought they called you “Action” because I ain’t getting any” or something lame like that). In a post-Purple Rain marketing move, Vanity is also a pop singer of terrible Prince-wannabe sexy songs, two of which she performs in their entirety within the Elite Club that Dellaplane owns, but because it’s a Joel Silver produced action flick, also satisfies the requirements of any major starring actress by revealing her breasts in a doped-out seduction scene with Dellaplane. Ahh, the glorious, pre-political correctness, pre-internet days of casual female nudity in over-the-top action movies!

So, yes, there is an overload of grisly murders and plenty of explosions throughout the film’s running time. Yet Action Jackson also has a heightened comic tone that is obviously trying to cash in on the success of Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, which was a Bruckheimer/Simpson cop movie but with Eddie Murphy providing the yucks. This vibe is present in the opening credit sequence that plays an unremarkable 1980s pop tune from the Pointer Sisters over a tourist montage of Detroit (my friend Dan’s reaction, “Yeah, we get it already, it’s Detroit!”), which is also cemented by Herbie Hancock and Michael Kamen’s ‘Rock-It’ styled score, the synthesiser Mickey-Mousing every pratfall and hijink. The result is that Action Jackson often seems like a parody of itself with it’s over the top action bullshit. There’s a lame bit where Jackson is cornered by some hoods in a bar (including Renegade’s Bobby Six-Killer) who want to cut off his balls but Vanity convinces them Jackson’s an escapee from Bellevue and so he does some over-acting as a wannabe preacher with overlaid Gospel music before snapping out of that stale comedy routine and kicking some ass!

Even better is when Action Jackson, already established as a star of track and field, runs after an assassin in a taxi cab, manages to keep up with the car on foot, throws himself onto the roof of the car, punches out the window while the assassin shoots at him through the roof, is thrown off the roof when the assassin finally wises up to the fact Jackson will fall off when the brakes are hit, then Jackson in the middle of the road convinces the assassin to ram into him to which Jackson performs a vertical leap, flipping over the length of the car as it crashes into a car dealership behind where Jackson was standing. As Seymour observed, “He just jumped over a car.” Completely over the top action bullshit that almost veers into Naked Gun territory.

What else do we have in this sucker? You have tons of familiar faces from numerous Silver productions with pock-faced Robert Davi (Agent Johnson from Die Hard) as a doomed informant, Sonny Ladham (Billy from Predator) as a drug dealer that Jackson throws through one window and into another window in the opposite building, and everyone’s favourite Asian henchman, Al Leong (Genghis Kahn from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) as another in his long line of Asian henchmen. You even have one of my favourite extras – the cigar-chomping garbage truck driver at the beginning of Terminator (the one who sees the electricity from the time travel and croaks, “What the hell?”), better known as Chino ‘Fats’ Williams, who plays a frog-throated former boxing star and mentor to Jackson who runs a flea-bit hotel that Jackson and Vanity have to hide out in. You’ve also got a young Sharon Stone who plays Dellaplane’s dim-bulb wife who discovers evidence of Dellaplane’s evil-doings, tells Jackson, then tells Dellaplane, which all ends in a murderous gunshot embrace from the evil Dellaplane (though not before Stone also provides an unnecessary but welcome shower scene). You’ve got a pseudo-crucifixion torture scene ala Lethal Weapon where Action Jackson is tied up shirtless while the Huey Lewis henchman from Die Hard intends to burn him with a fiery torch, quipping “We’re gonna have ourselves a barbecque.” Then you’ve got Action Jackson escaping and turning the tables on the Huey Lewis lookalike by pointing a hand-held missile launcher at him and counter-quipping “Barbecque? How do you like your ribs?” before opening fire and exploding the sucker (there’s even a classic dissolve from the fiery corpse to a plate of ribs cooking!). Then there’s the climax at Dellaplane’s mansion where Action Jackson and his crew tear up the joint, exposing Dellaplane’s duplicity, but not before another amazing bullshit action moment where Carl Weathers jumps into a Ferrari, drives into the mansion (that’s fine) and also drives up the stairs onto the second floor (as Seymour said, “The laws of physics are against him there”) in order to rescue Vanity from Craig T. Nelson’s evil clutches. One tough kung-fu fist-fight later and a shoot-out later where Dellaplane/Nelson has a substantial hole blown through his chest, Action Jackson stands victorious with an ex-junkie in his hands (she says she’s gone “Cold Turkey” after one day, which doesn’t sound right?) and Bill Duke, the angry chief, promoting him back to Lieutenant. Oh yeah, and as a Joel Silver produced action movie, every interior scene is drenched in smoke for atmospheric effect; it’s like “Cue smoke machine, okay actors, step into the fog and do your thing.”

In the end, Carl Weathers cooks up a stew of stupid one-liners and unbelievable action in Action Jackson, a fine example of the Joel Silver-produced action spectacular bullshit movie. Who else would wear a red V-neck sweater with such extreme style, but Carl Weathers?



Nice review, definately make sure to walk past this joint next time im in Blockbuster.

BTW-Did you know there was a spoof-porno of this done in the early/mid 90's called Satisfaction Jackson

Matt C said...

Oh man I kind of want to watch this now...

Imagine having "Genghis Kahn from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure" appended after your name... what an accomplishment

dan said...

"it's ACTION!!"


man the more i think about it, the more it felt like a bad beverley hills cop knock-off by someone who didn't get it at all.

the balding asian longhaired dude is my new favourite!

tristan said...

24KGOLDSLUMCOMPUTER WIZARD: Yes, this is a rent-worthy action flick. Haha, had no idea about the porno spoof. Makes sense as Action Jackson is such a chaste knight in this thing who never gets his mack on.

Matt C: Haha, it is an accomplishment, particularly the scene in Bill & Ted where he trounces security mall cops with sporting equipment. But yes, I can lend you the Action Jackson as it is great!

Dan: Funny that it was a bit of a Beverly Hills Cop knock-off but focused on an actor who wasn't a comedian.

I always used to love sighting Al Leong in action flicks. He's also in Big Trouble In Little China!