Action Jackson

Sinister delivery
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1988
Director: 
Craig R. Baxley
Starring: 
Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Vanity, Sharon Stone
The Setup: 
Big black Detroit cop takes on his rival.
Discussion: 

Having seen and been totally charmed by Vanity in The Last Dragon, I put this movie to the top of my list. I saw this more than once—possibly three times, for some reason—when it was out and I was an impressionable teen who was watching a lot of whatever was in theaters. It actually seemed pretty good when I was 20. I'm a little embarrassed about that.

Our setting is Detroit. In the Renaissance Center, that big glass building that was, at the time, the latest sure-fire plan to revitalize downtown [hence the name], Liz and Frank are working late. He is dictating a letter and she is snootily [and incorrectly] amending his English, then reveals that she has a date. He starts to put the moves on her, but then black-suited thugs burst in through the window and punch her through a glass wall, killing her instantly. That is, as they say, a fine "how do you do." Then Frank starts shooting at vases and things, then at a desk which mysteriously starts moving toward him. Now, in retrospect, I think we are to believe that there was no one under the desk, Frank’s just shooting everything because he’s jumpy. So then why did the desk move? Was it telekinesis? Did Frank tap into some unknown reserve of psychic energy unleashed by the intense stress? We’ll never know, as he is soon dead.

Then we have a theme song, performed by the Pointer Sisters in their nasty synth-dance phase, entitled “He turned me out.” I was prepared to like it, but it’s dreadful. Then the cops pick up this black teen and start telling him tales of Action Jackson, including that his mother was molested by Bigfoot and Jackson is the mutant offspring. They take him back to the station, still lionizing Jackson, while there is a fairly nice long and fast tracking shot through the police station. The kid makes a run for it and the whole build-up continues until we finally see Jackson—and one’s first impression is that he doesn’t really live up to the build-up. In fact, in clothes, he’s big, but otherwise unremarkable. I will spare you a description of how MY alternate version would have played out.

But now it’s time for buttloads of exposition. Jackson goes into his boss’ office and they review how he used to be a Lieutenant but was demoted to Sergeant because he was wrong about some case and it resulted in the son of Peter Dellaplane, who was a sexual psychopath, losing an arm and somehow embarrassing the department.

So Jackson is forced to go to this function where he runs into Peter, and it’s obvious they have a history of enmity. Also on hand is a young[ish] Sharon Stone as Peter’s wife! She has a much bigger role here than I recalled.

So lingering around are a number of reasonably hot early 90s thugs. Then Jackson goes home and we see this woman standing against the wall in the background [above]. One would assume it’s an assassin, but I think it’s supposed to be a highly realistic statue. He collects Duane Hanson? I think if they’re going to do that, they have to introduce it as a statue, because as it is you’re spending the whole scene like; “WHO is that woman?”

Then we are introduced to Vanity as singer Sydney Ash, as she sings the not-very-good-at-all “Faraway Eyes.” She is Peter’s mistress. Then Jackson is summoned to his friend’s house, who is frantic because he’s sure he’s about to be killed by Peter’s men. He deals more exposition Jackson’s way. Then, for a guy living in utter paranoia, he sure is happy to receive an unexpected package from the most sinister deliveryman in existence. You know, sometimes mail can really brighten up a person’s day. Except in this case, when it’s a bomb.

SPOILERS > > >
Then Peter injects Vanity with a drug—she’s a junkie! Then we see that he [yes, Craig T. Nelson] is a brutal martial arts master! Then he ignores Sharon, and she overhears something, and meets Jackson for lunch to talk about it. Then she’s just finished asking him why they call him Action Jackson when a cab tries to kill her! And Jackson chases the cab ON FOOT and we see him keeping up with it! What, is he bionic? He leaps atop it and there’s this whole big chase with explosions and everything. Then Peter kills Sharon for talking to Jackson!

Well, Sharon dead, it’s time for Jackson to find someone more racially appropriate, which is conveniently on hand in the form of Vanity. Except that she’s a SMACK ADDICT! He takes her back to her apartment, which soon explodes, prompting her to say “Jericho? What’s going on?” Well sweetie, your apartment just exploded. Then she wants to go BACK to the charred remains of her apartment to get her makeup because she says she looks like shit, but he says “You look beautiful,” and of course she is all touched. She later has a notable line when some thug says to her “Dellaplane owns you!” and without a beat she snaps “He rents me!”

So by now I’m getting bored. It’s just not very good, it’s too long, it’s too pedestrian, and Carl Weathers has not ONCE taken his shirt off thus far! What?! So he goes to this woman at some barbershop who speaks in as many “de-” words as she can, such as defiant and decapitated, then there’s this whole torture scene where FINALLY Weathers takes his shirt off—and looks quite fine to me. I remember seeing this back when it was out in theaters and thinking, when he was all tied up and sweaty, that he literally looked like a plastic GI Joe figure. I didn’t think that so much this time.

Anyway, then it’s time for the big showdown, during which Dellaplane is going to frame Jackson for the murder of someone or other, and we see that this movie hails from a time in action movie history in which a big, swank rich-person party HAD to be part of your film. Jackson kills the killer, then drives the big fancy sports car INTO Dellaplane's house and up to the second floor [you’ll notice how the film smoothly elides over the way Jackson got the car to maneuver through the tight 90-degree turn on the stairs’ landing] and drives it into the bedroom where he’s got Vanity. Like in Déjà vu, it’s like—how did he know he wouldn’t run right over Vanity?

No surely you will recall that he had that one scene earlier in which we learned that Dellaplane is a martial arts master, and naturally you will have deduced that that was there simply so we could have this scene here, which is when they decide to throw away their guns and duke it out with their bare fists. But eventually Dellaplane gets shot in the head and Jackson makes lieutenant again and Vanity is going to kick the drugs and they’re going to run off and live happily ever after. Except that they live in Detroit.
< < < SPOILERS END

It pretty much blew. I mean, it wasn’t absolutely unwatchable, but it was very pedestrian and got very boring very fast. And Vanity wasn’t nearly as charming as she was in The Last Dragon and Weathers barely took his shirt off at all. It’s just a solid example of the generic crap budget action movies of the 80s. And it’s obvious they were hoping to build a series. Yeah, I shouldn’t have even watched it.

Should you watch it: 

No, unless you’re making Hot Fuzz II or something and need to watch every action film ever made.