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Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) – DVD Review


Written by David H. Franzoni, J.W. Melville, and Patricia Irving
Directed by Penny Marshall
Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Collins, John Wood, Carol Kane, Annie Potts

Released by: Fox Home Entertainment.
Rating: R
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Watch It On Cable

Terry Doolittle (Goldberg) is like most of us, a too-smart and too-bored office worker. Like most of us, she amuses herself with the odd antics of her fellow workers. She also, like most of us, utilizes cyberspace to break the monotony. Specifically, she uses her bank’s international currency system to chat with people all over the world. Of course, her tightass of a boss objects to this. But that is the least of her worries when she responses to a mysterious user called Jumpin’ Jack Flash. He says he’s a British spy trapped in Bulgaria and would she talk to the British embassy and get him help. On a lark, she decides to go along. Soon, she’s busy avoiding spies, infiltrating embassies, and riding around in a telephone booth. She is, however, no longer bored.

After her remarkable turn in The Color Purple, Whoopi Goldberg’s next project was supposed to highlight her considerable comedic talent. Unfortunately, she signed on to this derivative and lazy thriller. It tries to modernize the “normal person helps spy” story by introducing the computer element. Seeing online instant messaging in a movie twenty years back and Whoopi are the only interesting things in this movie. Great character actors like Carol Kane, Jonathan Pryce, and even Phil Hartman are wasted in one-dimensional roles that exist merely to give Whoopi something to react to or deliver exposition. If this film had been made today, you could have computer generated these plot drones and there would have been little difference.

Whoopi does give plenty of energy into her performance and that helps the movie be somewhat bearable. Here’s an example of how bad it gets: Terry, to avoid The Bad Guys, gets the NYPD to arrest her. When she realizes that they are actually taking her “downtown,” she grabs the policeman driving the patrol car, pulls down his cap, and makes them wreck. She then escapes down the subway. Okay, fine, maybe NYPD cars didn’t have screens or grills separating the front and back seats twenty years ago. I’m no car expert. But don’t they, you know, handcuff people when they arrest them? It’s because of laziness like this that not even Whoopi’s exuberances can kick this movie’s butt into gear.

Since this wasn’t a commercial blockbuster, there aren’t any features of note since those cost money. Which is a shame since this is Whoopi’s comedic debut and having a black woman as the lead of an action/comedy isn’t something you see every day. This was also Penny Marshall’s (the director of Big and A League of Their Own) debut directing job. Admittedly, not the best beginning, but still it would have been nice to hear her recollections about making this film. Honestly, you should just catch Jumpin’ Jack Flash on cable.

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