Jake Speed (1986)
Release Date: May 30th, 1986 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Andrew Lane Actors: Wayne Crawford, Dennis Christopher, Karen Kopins, John Hurt, Rebecca Ashley
n Paris, two thugs with guns pursue a couple of young women to kidnap them for slave trading. This is accomplished to the pace of some rather upbeat tunes – and in broad daylight with numerous witnesses. Blonde Maureen Winston (Rebecca Ashley) is one of the victims. Her family is content with prayers and letting the government track down her abductors, but elderly “Pop” (Leon Ames) insists that this dire situation calls for the likes of a man of action. For example, Remo Williams or Jake Speed, which are characters from paperback adventure novels, who defeat evil where it exists, are always there for those in need of rescuing, and never charge monetary fees. Quite unbelievably, Maureen’s sister Margaret (Karen Kopins) is given a letter that night by Desmond Floyd (Dennis Christopher), an associate of Jake Speed (Wayne Crawford) – who turns out to be a real person.
At a bar at the San Pedro docks, Margaret and her older sister Wendy (Donna Pescow) can only muster disbelief and insults for the cocky man who shows up. He insists that Maureen has been captured by an international gang of white slavers and will never be located without his help. “Can you handle an adventure?” inquires the soldier of fortune. “I’ve never had one before,” responds Margaret, unwittingly caught up in some romantic banter. After browsing one of the novels by Reno Melon, who chronicles the ventures of the fictional Jake Speed, she heads to Buzoville, Africa, which is in the middle of a revolution. Many of the particulars she reads about in the book arise in her real life situation. Ironically, her skepticism involves questioning why no one has ever made a movie based on Jake’s exploits, especially if he’s as famous as he asserts. When Speed’s plan falls apart (involving selling Margaret to the same slavers that took Maureen, hoping to follow them back to their headquarters), the group is, coincidentally, still seized by the ringleader, Sidney Wigway (John Hurt).
The idea of a hero from a book materializing for the sake of saving damsels in distress is undeniably amusing. And a few editing gimmicks, while not entirely original, add a touch of humor and fun (such as a bar fight and hostage situation that is interrupted by a series of electrical blackouts, which displace characters until they end up free, and Jake’s assurance that only events that would make for thrilling reading material can take place in his world). There’s no entertainment value in doing things the easy way.
“If you want something bad enough, you get it!” he maintains as they flee from enemy gunfire and plead for the random airdrop of a combat jeep (HARV, a Heavily Armored Raiding Vehicle, which has saved the day in many of Jake’s novels) to magically appear. Like James Bond, a level of invincibility in the face of a certain, disastrous end is always existent. The problem is that, despite a few clever notions, the script can’t generate genuine chemistry between the lead roles – nor can it create sincere action sequences. Even with John Hurt as the main villain (the type of flesh peddler who obligatorily executes servants for interrupting his sales pitch), the film moves along rather ploddingly, devoid of intensity, laugh-out-loud humor, or suspense (particularly when the protagonists are about to be dispatched and must exchange prattling showdown lingo).
Crawford is not a very intimidating or believably formidable actor, lacking the larger-than-life physique of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger. Regardless, since he wrote and produced the project, putting himself in the lead wasn’t much of a hurdle. Speed is regularly accompanied by a slim, bespectacled, accountant-like sidekick, who also fails to provide the missing cinematic qualities – which is, most direly, the muscle. But Jake does stay perpetually equipped with sarcasm and scorn, aimed squarely at his reluctant romantic counterpart, not unlike the relationships seen in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Romancing the Stone.” Margaret spends most of the film attempting to elude Jake and Des, certain that they’re conmen, instead of aiding in the mission or even instigating fun-loving dalliances. In the end, “Jake Speed” is nothing more than one of the many quickly forgotten attempts to be the next franchise-spawning action icon.
– Mike Massie