At 25: “Action Jackson”

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February 12, 2013 by billysparrow

If I like a movie, I can’t really tell you why I like it, and if I don’t like a movie (which is actually pretty rare…I can think of about three movies I completely hated), I can’t really tell you what makes it worse than a movie I like. So, my thinking goes, why waste time watching movies if my ultimate takeaway when the credits roll will be either “that was good” or “that wasn’t that good but whatever”?

It was not always that way. There was my youth. when time was there for the wasting and we got a VCR, we got cable, and, finally, a multiplex opened in my hometown. With the family memberships to Electronic Junction, Victory Home Video, Four Star Video, Palmer Video, and Blockbuster Video, I had a seemingly endless variety of movies just a short walk away. When cable came to town, walking wasn’t even necessary, and I could tape the movies and watch them whenever I wanted. And then if I wanted to have the “movie experience,” I could go with a friend and choose from a dozen different movies shown all day long–and near a bowling alley and a pizza place! Oh, sweet, wonderful world!

The series “At 25” looks back at some of the movies I saw during those halcyon days–in particular, the halcyon year of 1988. All the movies featured in the series were released 25 years ago, and I will be reassessing them on the day they were released (based on info from IMDB). To do so, I will be rewatching these movies with jaded, 36-year-old (and, God willing, 37-year-old) eyes and trying to see what I loved about them when I was 11 and 12 years old. Because I am an overgrown child, I do not suspect this will be that difficult.

In doing so, I suspect I will “spoil” some of these movies for you. So if you’ve been waiting 25 years to watch “Action Jackson” and “Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach,” well, you have some serious problems that you really need to address. Best of luck in your journey. I’m rooting for you.

And, finally, I am sad I did not have this idea last year–sad mostly for you, for you have missed out on reading more words than you could ever want to read about “Adventures in Babysitting,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,””Amazon Women on the Moon,” “The Running Man,” “Innerspace,””Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “La Bamba,” “Dragnet,” “Back to the Beach,””Summer School,” “Disorderlies,” and, most tragically, “Walk Like a Man,” in which, lest you forget, Howie Mandel plays a man raised by wolves who thus thinks and acts like a dog. Oh well. Maybe there will be an “At 30” series in 2017.

But until then, let’s go back to 1988 and enjoy the first installment of “At 25,” devoted to the classic film “Action Jackson.”



Action Jackson

Released February 12, 1988

Starring: Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Vanity, and Sharon Stone

Up until a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure that “Action Jackson” was the first R-rated movie I saw in a movie theater. In my memory, my best friend Donnie, his father Walter, and I went to the UA Travis theater to see the Carl Weathers-headed feature because, well, I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps we were trying to find a way to cope with Apollo Creed’s death in “Rocky IV.” I should note that I am still trying and have not completely forgiven Ivan Drago. I suspect I never will.

Anyway, that’s my best guess as to why I wanted to see “Action Jackson.” But it’s only a guess. And, to be honest, after watching the movie, I might be making up the memory of having seen this movie. Nothing about it seems even vaguely familiar, and the slight nudity (courtesy of Vanity and Sharon Stone) does not bring about any fond recollection of the first time I saw boobs on a movie screen (and such a momentous event should conjure up something, no?). Then again, I know for a fact that I saw several Steven Seagal movies around this time via video, as I tried to be a man and get into action movies. This era did not last long (my mother’s fondness for Steven Seagal movies actually outlasted mine), and if I watched any of those movies now, I’m fairly certain they too would seem brand-new to me.

So, maybe I did see “Action Jackson” in 1988 with Donnie and his dad. Or maybe I’m misremembering that entirely and Saturday night was the first time I saw “Action Jackson.” Whatever the case, I’ve watched it and I have some thoughts, so I share them now with you.

If you’re going to make an action movie, best to get right to the action, even if the viewer has no idea what the hell is going on. So it is with “Action Jackson,” in which the first big event of the opening sequence involves a sneak attack (by helicopter?) into an office building. Soon after the assailants break through the windows, a woman is kicked in the face and sent to her demise through a plate-glass wall. Then the man who seems to be her boss, after shooting up his office and yelling “Jesus Christ!” a few times, is also kicked in the face, then has a knife thrown through his hand, is punched in the face, and finally shot at by a gun that causes him to be engulfed in flames and propels him out of the office tower and into a restaurant. And so we have begun.

After what I assume was meant as a comic interlude (featuring Thomas “Biff Tannen” Wilson, riding that high-flying rocket of fame), we are introduced to Detroit cop Jericho “Action” Jackson (Carl Weathers). Mr. Jackson is a former high school track star and Harvard law degree holder who for some vague reason that’s not clearly defined (something about leaning too hard on the villain’s son, who was some sort of sexual psychopath) was stripped of his lieutenancy and gun and demoted to a desk-duty sergeant by his captain, who has weird-looking ears.

After we get that exposition, we move on to the villain, auto magnate Peter Dellaplane, played by Craig T. Nelson, best known as either Hayden Fox on “Coach” or, for those of us who like to cry every Tuesday, Zeke Braverman on “Parenthood,” but who I must say makes a fine villain (see also, spoiler alert, “Turner and Hooch”). When we first meet Mr. Dellaplane, whose evil is manifest in his slicked-back hair and dark eyebrows, he is receiving what is surely one of the more unwieldy. multi-apostrophed awards bestowed on a film character:


Yes, let’s congratulate Mr. Dellaplane on receiving Detroit’s Businessman’s Man of the Year Award. Huzzah!

Now that we’ve introduced the two main protagonists, let’s just briefly run down the rest of the movie. Minor characters die amid big explosions. It seems like Action Jackson might die in a big explosion. He doesn’t die. The villain dies (though, in a twist, not through a big explosion). Detroit, in which seemingly every indoor space is enveloped in a smoky haze, is saved.

Along the way, there are Vanity’s exposed boobs (she is Sydney Ash, Mr. Dellaplane’s mistress, whom at some point he tries to kill for reasons I’m not quite sure of), a shot of Sharon Stone in the shower (she’s Mr. Dellaplane’s wife, Patrice, who has the misfortune of upsetting her husband just after his servant has handed him a freshly cleaned gun for his inspection), and many impressive physical feats by Mr. Jackson, perhaps the best of which is when he jumps over a moving car. Clearly that track-and-field training paid off.

A tip of the hat should also go to the would-beassassin/driver, who not only quickly escapes from that crash before Mr. Jackson can nab him, but also seems none the worse for wear a few days later.

Aside from these moments of intense action (another highlight, seen in the trailer above, involves Mr. Jackson hurling a gentleman not just out of a window but through another), there are also moments of sheer terror. Perhaps “terror” isn’t the right word, but I don’t know how else to describe the moments when I thought I was going to have to watch (a) Craig T. Nelson have sexual relations with Vanity, (b) Craig T. Nelson have sexual relations with an unconscious Vanity, and (c) Craig T. Nelson have sexual relations with a dead Sharon Stone. Luckily, these situations were all averted, but suffice it to say these were three moments in the film where I started to reconsider this whole project.

There are other less traumatically memorable moments, most of which involve much hurtling of bodies and exploding of body parts. The last third of the film is particularly rife with these gems, which begin with what might be the Greatest Mulleted Henchman in All of Moviedom, who is seen fleetingly earlier in the film but gets his true moment to shine as Mr. Jackson is cornered by The Invisible Men. After they grab hold of Vanity, Mr. Jackson looks behind him and is confronted by the sight of this man.


Immediately, the henchman busts out a killer rendition of Europe’s “Carrie” and Action Jackson is moved to tears, at which point he is shot, castrated, set on fire, strapped to a rocket ship, and launched into space.

OK, you got me. I made that up.

But fire does come into play once Mr. Jackson is captured, chained up, and subjected to the standard “I could kill you now but let’s wait a bit” speech from Mr. Dellaplane. Oh no! They are about to set him aflame. Is this the end of Jericho Jackson? With 15 minutes still to go in the movie? Probably. Man, what a bummer. I really thought good was going to triumph over evil…wait, what? Sydney’s giant bodyguard, whose entire interaction with Mr. Jackson involved being punched in the face and tackled by Mr. Jackson, has come to save his life? Of course! How did I not see that coming?

Soon all the henchmen (even Johnny Mullet) meet their maker, except for the guy who seems to be Head Henchman, who fires his Flaming Gun O’ Explosions at Mr. Jackson and the bodyguard many times but cannot kill them. They eventually lure him outside, where he is tackled by the bodyguard, drops his FGO’E, and is then blown to bits by Mr. Jackson in a most fiery manner, though not before Mr. Jackson, echoing Head Henchman’s earlier vow to barbecue Mr. Jackson, delivers the immortal line, “Barbecue, huh? How do you like your ribs?” And then as his body disintegrates in the flames, we immediately cut to a shot of actual ribs being grilled at Mr. Dellaplane’s party.

This is clearly the best moment of the movie. Maybe of all movies in 1988. Maybe of all movies ever. It was, I swear, on YouTube yesterday but it was taken down. So just imagine its stupendousness. Or go watch the movie. You’ll probably do the former, won’t you?

All this leads to the final confrontation between Mr. Jackson and Mr. Dellaplane, which begins after Mr. Jackson drives a car into Mr. Dellaplane’s house, up the staircase, and into the room where Mr. Dellaplane is holding a bound Vanity captive (Mr. Dellaplane seems genuinely surprised when the car comes into the room, which suggests a real smooth ride). Then, after the two agree to a gentlemanly, hand-to-hand combat fight to the death, Zeke Braverman and Apollo Creed tear each other up.

And so Mr. Jackson and Sydney Ash head off into the haze-covered night, celebrating Mr. Dellaplane’s demise, Mr. Jackson’s triumphant return to the good graces of Detroit’s finest, and Ms. Ash’s two nights of drug-free living. Cue the Pointer Sisters’ tender feminist anthem “He Turned Me Out” (the movie’s ostensible theme, chosen over the song actually called “Action Jackson” by Madame X, which follows it as the credits roll…and yes, I would buy this soundtrack if given the opportunity) and we’re done.

I still can’t say with any certainty if I actually saw “Action Jackson” with Donnie and his dad in 1988. I also, sadly, cannot tell you I completely hated the movie. Does it have a flimsy plot, bad acting, and implausible situations? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it? Yeah, kind of. I mean, I laughed several times. I don’t think I was supposed to, but why take issue with the end result? And, also, who among us doesn’t want to see a human fireball plunge into a restaurant every now and then?

Yes, I still have no taste in movies. Welcome to “At 25.” It’s probably only going to get sadder.


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