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Case Number 05100

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Jumpin' Jack Flash

Fox // 1986 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // August 31st, 2004

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All Rise...

A lot of Whoopi, a touch of Penny, and a little bit of Mick. Sounds like an '80s mix to Judge Dennis Prince.

The Charge

She didn't know jack about being a spy.

Opening Statement

"I'm a little black woman in a big silver box. On the top it says 'phone.' Help!" That about sums up the genre of '80s action-comedies, doesn't it?

Facts of the Case

Terry Doolittle leads a rather mundane life, whiling her days away in front of a Sperry monitor performing foreign currency exchanges and spending evenings with her nose buried in all manner of detective novels. Situated among a colorful collection of peers, each who clings to about 24 square feet of un-walled workspace, Terry is the office handy-woman, personal advice dispenser, and all-around good Jane. Thanks to a faulty shielded IO port, her monitor frequently receives Russian aerobics broadcasts to the delight of the office drones around her. One evening, however, her computer receives a rather desperate overture from a British spy who identifies himself only as "Jumpin' Jack Flash." After testing Terry's intelligence and resourcefulness (she correctly guesses a key code), "Jack" enlists the plucky computer jockey to help him safely escape Russia, thereby ensnaring Terry into a dangerous game of international espionage. The situation grows more desperate by the minute as Terry narrowly thwarts attempts on her own life as she struggles to get the information needed to save Jack's life.

The Evidence

Although it's not necessarily a "gas, gas, gas," Jumpin' Jack Flash is a pleasantly distracting relic of '80s cinema. It's a bit chilling at the initial fade-in to see the twin towers of the World Trade Center occupying center-frame (and thankfully they weren't digitally removed here), but the film jumps into gear as the gawky, goofy, and gregarious Whoopi hams it up during the opening credits. Wearing her signature radioactive Reeboks of the day, Whoopi is of unstoppable energy and unflappable wit throughout the picture. And, as this was her first picture following her Academy Award nominated role of Celie from The Color Purple, this picture is centered squarely on her, intended to showcase her unconventional comic style. Clearly, she dug in with both heels of her blinding yellow sneakers and proved she could shoulder the load of a comedy/spy thriller, and shoulder the load she did. Her timing is spot on and her delivery is impeccable, providing hearty laughs that upstage the plotted bits of slapstick and silliness (only her frantic yet frustrated delivery of "Only in f***ing New York could you be in a ***damn phone booth and nobody does anything" gives a runaway phone booth gag any chance of being funny). Remember, too, that, as this is Whoopi, the language is just as colorful as her attire. There are plenty of f-bombs flying but in the appropriate audience setting, it all works well.

This disc from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is generally suitable to the content material. We're offered a choice between an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer and an inferior full frame pan-and-scan version. The anamorphic image looks pretty good with sharp details and good color saturation. You'll see some shimmering from time to time but it strictly the exception, not the norm, here. The audio is presented in a reasonably lively Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track that is well balanced and manages to evoke some decent directional effects from the front channels. The dialogue is always clear and easy to understand (helped by Whoopi's well-enunciated, uh, euphemisms). As for extras, you'll find only the film's original theatrical trailer as well as trailers for other Whoopi fare: How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Kingdome Come, and Monkeybone.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

No, this isn't a stellar vehicle for Whoopi; yes, the sometimes brilliant Penny Marshall has done better work from her director's chair; I know, Whoopi has spent most of her time lately whooping up discontent on the political front. Put all of that aside, if you can, and just enjoy this very improbable, highly formulaic romp. This one is most enjoyable if you can enter into it with expectations of '80s-minded action/comedy (a la Beverly Hills Cop). The only real shame here is that the collection of now well-know supporting actors are never given a chance to contribute. We're talking names like John Lovitz, James Belushi, Stephen Collins, Carol Kane, Roscoe Lee Brown, Annie Potts, Tracey Ullman, and the late Phil Hartman. Too bad director Marshall couldn't recognize the brimming talent waiting to be unleashed here.

Closing Statement

In all, it's a run-of-the-mill madcap mystery filled with intrigue and incendiary adjectives. Keep your expectations a bit lower than usual and you might enjoy this one. Whoopi shoulders this one pretty much alone but does a decent job in the process.

The Verdict

Director Penny Marshall is cited for wasting an enviable amount of raw talent for the time, and Whoopi Goldberg is officially admonished for waxing political when she should instead be sticking to her chosen profession. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is dismissed any guilt by association in recognition of delivering a generally respectable disc. Court adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 89
Audio: 89
Extras: 47
Acting: 91
Story: 87
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer
• Bonus Trailers


• IMDb

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