We judges don't often get the opportunity to critique fiery corpses that plummet from high-rises and smash through glass ceilings, but Judge Dave Packard had such an opportunity—and he seized it, just as any action movie aficionado would.
Stormy Weathers blasts through Motown.
The name of the film alone implies that this is not a weepy romantic comedy, and anyone who enjoys a formulaic '80s-style action romp won't be disappointed with it. Shootings, stabbings, explosions, broken bones, electrocutions, torchings, impalings, careening vehicles, glass shattering at every opportunity and more are crammed into the movie's 96-minute running time. The cast is largely enjoyable and often recognizable from other action films of that decade, with Craig T. Nelson's performance standing out in particular as the flick's icy, power-hungry antagonist.
The film does have its share of flaws. The plot is tired, some of the humor falls flat, Vanity's acting guarantees we'll never hear her name uttered alongside the phrase "and the Oscar goes to," and the short running time still feels bloated due to the stretches between action sequences. The DVD presentation has issues as well.
Gripes notwithstanding, there is enough action, humor, and great lines throughout to make this film a simple little guilty pleasure that should satisfy fans of the genre.
Facts of the Case
Sergeant Jericho "Action" Jackson (Carl Weathers) is a Detroit cop with an apparent inability to control his actions in heated situations (hence the moniker slapped on him). Still brooding over the loss of his Lieutenant stripes after a violent run-in with a "sexual psychopath" two years earlier, Jackson steams when Captain Armbruster (Bill Duke) asks him to represent the department at the Detroit Businessman's League "Man of the Year" fundraiser honoring auto magnate Peter Dellaplane (Craig T. Nelson). Dellaplane just happens to be the father of said sexual psychopath, and Jackson's meeting with Dellaplane at the fundraiser makes it very clear that there's no love lost between these two.
When key members of the local Auto Workers Alliance begin turning up with toe tags (assuming they have toes left) after run-ins with a mysterious, ninja-like death squad (one of whom looks straight out of an '80s hair band), Dellaplane is, of course, the prime suspect. Jackson turns to Dellaplane's gorgeous trophy wife Patrice (Sharon Stone) and part-time R&B singer/full-time drug-addict mistress Sydney Ash (Vanity) for help in proving that Dellaplane is behind the murders.
Jackson tools around Motown in his '66 Impala convertible with Sydney in tow, avoiding danger and trying to gain information about Dellaplane's involvements. When he is framed for murder, Jackson must thwart a kidnapping, stop an assassination, prove his innocence, and bring down Dellaplane on his own, all of which provide Jackson with plenty of opportunities to live up to his titular nickname.
Five minutes into the film, a fiery corpse plummets from a high-rise and smashes through the glass ceiling of a restaurant. A woman in the restaurant screams at the carnage, and we are thrust into opening credits backed by a pounding Pointer Sisters number. Action Jackson certainly wastes no time in dishing up the goods.
The action then takes a backseat as characters and plot are established. Carl Weathers appears to be having a lot of fun with his character, and Jericho Jackson made me smile more than once during the film. Sixteen years later, Craig T. Nelson still makes my "Top 10 Movie Villains I'd Hate to Piss Off" list with his portrayal of the suave and powerful Peter Dellaplane. Sharon Stone, who doesn't appear in the film as much as her oversized picture on the front of the DVD case implies, is stunningly beautiful as always (some folks may be happy to hear she appears partially topless in a brief sauna scene). Physical attributes aside, she does a nice job here as Peter's confused, devoted wife.
You might also recognize a large contingent of actors who are known for roles in other '80s films playing smaller parts here. Aside from Weathers and Duke, Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future's Biff Tannen) plays a dopey cop, the late gravelly-voiced Chino "Fats" Williams (Weird Science, Iron Eagle) is Kid Sable, an aged boxer who owns a skid row motel, and Sonny Landham (48 Hrs., Predator) has a very brief role as Mr. Quick, a greasy drug pusher holed up in Kid Sable's motel. A couple of Dellaplane's "Invisible Men" goons have other movie henchmen roles on their resumes: Dennis Hayden and the very recognizable Al Leong both played terrorists in Die Hard.
There's a fair amount of humor between the smashing glass and flying butterfly knives, and most of it works very well. Sure, a few scenes and one-liners fall a bit flat, but I generally found myself chuckling more—in a good way—during Action Jackson than I usually do with these types of films.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Don't expect a highly original story here. The title is Action Jackson after all, and if you assume a little less thought was put into character and story than was put into the action, you'd be correct. The film feels longer than its running time as the action sequences are on the short side and spaced throughout the film. Some of the action is standard action movie fare (cars just happen to run into trucks hauling flammable tanks just itching to burst into fiery goodness), but I think that's to be expected in this kind of film.
R&B singer Vanity does a passable job in her role, but the two R&B numbers she sings in the film prove her skills as a singer definitely outshine her acting abilities. Her budding romance with Jackson feels forced and out-of-place, but thankfully it always takes a backseat to the rest of the plot.
The biggest issue I have with Action Jackson is the DVD presentation itself. The DVD was released over five years ago, and it shows. As the back of the case indicates, this DVD "includes interactive menus." Be aware that the extent of the interactivity involves jumping to a scene or choosing between English or French languages; there are no extras on this one.
The video yields a surprisingly small amount of grain, mostly noticeable in scenes with lighter shades of gray. Dirt and scratches pop up here and there, and edge enhancement is quite noticeable. Throw in a full-frame presentation, and it's obvious that the video presentation stands to be much better. Still, for a 1988 film released as a bare-bones DVD five years ago, it's better than I expected.
There's enough here to nitpick if you wish, but overall, Action Jackson delivers. If you've seen any of maverick action flick producer Joel Silver's films, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Decent action and chuckles pepper the film from beginning to end. While the DVD presentation and lack of any extras whatsoever are understandable turn-offs, it's worth the budget price (you should find it under $10 at most places) and is recommended for any action movie aficionado.
The court hereby finds Action Jackson not guilty by reason of '80s-era-action-movie-insanity! In addition, the court orders a formal investigation into why a second helping of Action Jackson was not served upon the movie-going public when lesser films have turned out countless sequels. The court also demands that this movie receive better treatment (anamorphic widescreen, cleaner print, and extras, at a minimum) on a future DVD, although we won't hold our breath on this one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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