Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Need for (Jake) Speed

Pop:There are a few, a very few men. Remo. Mack Bolan. Jake Speed. In this case, I think Jake Speed's the man for the job.
Here's another one of those almost universally reviled films that I actually like. In fact, not only do I like Jake Speed, it's one of those little non-guilty pleasures that I find I can revisit frequently, and enjoy every time I do. In fact, I'm proud to have the Anchor Bay DVD in my collection in a quality, widescreen edition.

Sure it's got flaws. A horde of them. Bad synthesizer music when it really needs a rousing, John Williams or James Horner score. A questionable leading man. Plot problems (although they're not really problems, considering the conceit of the film). A really lame "Heavily Armed Raiding Vehicle." What really hurts the film the most though is the lackluster direction, but if you can stick with it, I think you might find this 1986 B-movie adventure to be worth your time.

The premise is brilliant: you know all those pulp and paperback heroes that we all love so much? They're real. (Doc Savage is even mentioned in passing!) And when Margaret Winston's (the delectable Erin Gray lookalike Karen Kopins) sister is kidnapped in Paris by white slavers, her grandfather recommends looking up paperback hero Jake Speed (Wayne Crawford) to arrange a rescue. Nobody takes Pop seriously, tut-tutting over the old boy's obvious senility, but later that evening Margaret receives a mysterious message... and we're off -- into a knowing, smartly written adventure.

In the mid-Eighties Wayne Crawford tried to be a movie star, writing and producing various low budget vehicles for himself. Jake Speed is the only one that approaches any level of success, and for me, it even manages to survive Crawford's dubious charms as a leading man. In fact, considering the premise of the film, Crawford's less-than-Hollywood-polished looks and acting skills are probably more appropriate for the movie than a Harrison Ford would have been. I really like Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away, Fade to Black) as Speed's pistol-packing chronicler/sidekick Des, and Karen Kopins is a delightful heroine, constantly wondering just what madness she's gotten caught up in. John Hurt is at his campy, Snidely Whiplash best as the film's villain (although he doesn't appear until far too late into the flick), complete with a pit full of man-eating tigers.

But what I really love about this film is the premise... and the dialogue.
Jake Speed: We were gonna fight our way through enemy territory. Scale the highest mountain in this goddamned place. Traverse a bridge that was about to collapse. And then if we were lucky, I mean really lucky, we were gonna fight our way through two thousand extremely poisonous snakes.
Margaret Winston: There are thousands of snakes around here?
Jake Speed: There's gotta be if you look hard enough!

Margaret Winston: So, where did you and Des meet?
Jake Speed: Volume One.

Jake Speed: Sometimes you do things the hard way.
Margaret Winston: Why?
Jake Speed: Reads better.
A lot of reviewers (online and off) don't seem to get the joke. Or maybe they do, and it just doesn't hit them the way it hits me. But the message of this film is that adventure and heroism and honor are valuable things, worth pursuing, even if the rest of the world just doesn't get it. And I'd like to think that my pulp heroes are out there somewhere, "defeating evil where it exists!"
Jake Speed: If all this were about money, I'd be working for the wrong side most of the time.
I'm not going to promise that everyone's going to like Jake Speed -- hell, I'm definitely in the minority on this flick -- but it's a personal favorite. Better direction and higher production values might have made this more successful with the masses -- but this is pulp, after all, and even in its flawed, unpolished state, I find its varied charms to be quite satisfying.
Jake Speed: Evil may triumph, Sid, but it'll never conquer.
Sid: You're a Boy Scout, Jake!
Jake Speed: REFRESHING! Isn't it?


Andrew Glazebrook said...

Ain't seen this in a LONG time !! In fact I'm not 100% sure if I ever watched the whole movie on VHS,think I just seen bits of it at a mates Video shop !

Score-Brother said...

Quick question:

What was the beginning song in the movie "Jake Speed," as the two women tried getting away from the two bad dudes?

E-mail me, assuming you have the answer, here:

Thanks in advance.