Kevin: “January 16th, 2017 – Warner Brothers and producer Joel Silver have announced that they have started pre-production of a reboot of the iconic and beloved Carl Weathers action franchise “Action Jackson.” Starring Michael B. Jordan as Jericho Jackson Jr., directed by Antoine Fuqua, and featuring a planned cameo by Weathers, the new production will pick up the torch following two popular sequels in 1990 and 1992 and a less-popular TV version starring Bill Bellamy in 1999.”
In a just world we would be reading headlines like that, but instead we live in a world where the insanely entertaining and action-packed attempt by Carl Weathers to start his own franchise began and ended with one movie in 1988. But what a movie! Going by various versions, Weathers came up with the idea for “Action Jackson” during the filming of “Predator” while talking with either super producer Joel Silver or actor/“Lethal Weapon” screenwriter Shane Black. No matter what the genesis, Weathers convinced Silver to produce his starring vehicle the next year along with another little movie called “Die Hard.”
To oversee the project they chose Craig R. (“Stone Cold”) Baxley, a former stuntman-turned-director like the legendary Hal (“Smokey and the Bandit”) Needham. It was a wise choice, as the ex-stuntman filled the barely 90-minute movie with more awesome explosions, car crashes, and well-choreographed fights than five Michael Bay movies put together. The fact that Carl Weathers was so amazingly charismatic, badass, and funny makes it somewhat sad that we never got to see more adventures for Sgt. Jericho Jackson, but maybe we should just appreciate that, as with “The Last Boy Scout,” we were gifted with one perfect cinematic classic that will never be sullied by crass tie-ins or too-late sequels (hello, “A Good Day to Die Hard”).
Other thoughts on “Action Jackson”:
- “Action Jackson” came out on President’s Day weekend in February of 1988 and was somehow beaten out at the box office by the Sidney Pointier-Tom Berenger thriller “Shoot to Kill” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” then in its eighth week of release. While I enjoy the idea that a few lucky couples got to spend that year’s Valentine’s Day discovering the greatness of “Action Jackson,” I feel sorry for the guys who had to try and satisfy their women in the bedroom later knowing that they were likely fantasizing about Carl Weathers (or possibly Bill Duke, I’m not going to judge either way).
- As noted in our “Die Hard” Round Table, this movie contains a lot of the “Joel Silver Players” from that era. For instance, the secretary killed in the pre-credits scene is Mary Ellen Trainor, the long-suffering therapist of Riggs in “Lethal Weapon,” newscaster in “Die Hard,” and the real-life wife of Robert Zemeckis until he won an Oscar for Best Director for “Forrest Gump” and promptly divorced her and started fucking Playboy models and directing movies like “The Walk.” (I challenge anyone to sit through the first 40 seconds of Joseph Gordon Levitt breaking the fourth wall in a Pepe Le Pew accent and somehow overcome the urge to turn it off.)
- Here is why this movie is great. After he shoots by my count 28 bullets from his Beretta without reloading, her union boss Stringer gets a knife in his hand, punched in the face, shot with a grenade launcher, explodes and falls down the building engulfed in flames, then falls through a glass ceiling, then lands next to a screaming couple enjoying dinner. This is why stuntmen should direct all movies.
Anthony: Let me just stop you right there and point out something no else seems to notice about this scene: King Cobra Malt Liquor! That’s right, the guy that gets wacked at the top of the movie is drinking a King Cobra Malt Liquor. Because that’s what white labor union leaders need a cold can of right after a hard day of leading unions.
Kevin: Well if he had that shit coursing through his veins then no wonder he burst into flames so easily. But while I admit that he doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical King Cobra demographic, who back then could resist any ad campaign featuring Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Martin Kove from “The Karate Kid”? (Note that this is our second article in a row with a Fred Williamson reference after our “ChiPs” appreciation, as well as our second overall with a Martin Kove reference.)
Anthony: Back to the scene at hand here. Who is this union leader killed by? A band of assassins known as “The Invisible Men” (more on them later), the most wrongly named group ever as they apparently leave bodies strewn about like flour at a bakery, and make more noise than a Papa Shango splash from the top rope. The secretary hears them dancing an Irish jig on the roof and jokes that her date has arrived! What?! Are you dating Superman or Santa? There are people on the fucking roof, call the cops!!
Kevin: Let’s not forget that when her boss tries to get her to stay and she tells him he can’t possibly have a better suggestion, he replies, “Oh it so happens I do.” And then we quickly find out that what he apparently had in mind was for the two of them to watch a boxing match on his 12-inch office television, presumably over some delicious King Cobra Malt Liquor. Obviously someone’s been reading Cosmo lately to get a better idea of what the modern 80’s woman wants.
CJ: My main takeaway on the opening of this movie is that at least five panes of glass are broken in short order:
1) First the bad guys copter in and swing through the glass of the 43rd floor …
2) Then punch the secretary so hard she falls backwards THROUGH a glass wall …
3) Then another one jumps down through another glass ceiling …
4) Then Shaker, the Huey Lewis-looking assassin who took a head shot at the end of “Die Hard” later that year, shoots the union boss with a grenade launcher that blows him through an office window …
5) Causing him to plummet to his death, but not before crashing through a final glass ceiling into a restaurant …
This never happens anymore. I can only imagine Big Window must have gotten a hold of Hollywood and told them to stop using the broken glass pane so haphazardly. But really, this used to happen in every movie, and it’s somehow been lost to time.
Mike: “The Invisible Men” obviously have this name sarcastically, because they are the opposite of subtle in both actions and appearance. When it comes time for them to plan a hit on a corporate rival without drawing undue attention on their employer, options such as discrete poisons, an accidental trip down a stairwell, or a straight up cardiac arrest aren’t even on the design table. “We have to eliminate an out-of-shape middle-aged auto union leader with a drinking problem … Shaker, better bring your six-tubed grenade launcher for this one.”
Kevin: Either way, once he has hit the pavement we immediately cut to the opening credits set to the awesome Pointer Sisters song “He Turned Me Out,” whereby we are treated to a bunch of establishing shots supposedly set in Detroit, except it seems to have a vibrant manufacturing economy and a happy workforce with the kind of job security that comes from knowing that American automobiles will always be number one.
Once we get used to the fact that this movie takes in an alternate reality, we meet the white-black cop duo whose opening banter should by all rights have guaranteed them their own spin-off movie: “It was a real fuck-o-rama at my place last night.” “C’mon, there hasn’t been any pussy at your pad since your mother helped you move in.” “They should call your place the House of Wacks [jerking off motion].” “I’m surprised he [obvious purse snatcher] doesn’t wear a shirt that says ‘I Steal Shit’ on it.” “This boy would have to go to college for four years to reach the level of shit for brains.”
Mike: By the way, did anyone notice during these opening credits the fat black man in drag carrying a grocery bag full of bananas?
I’m really hoping that this guy wrote the movie, but he doesn’t much look like a dude named Robert Reneau to me. This is exactly how I’d like my name displayed on screen for my first feature credit. Thanks Craig R. Baxley!
Kevin: Yeah no matter how many times I watch this movie I still have no idea what’s up with that scene. At first I thought it was supposed to be like the beginning of “Nighthawks” when Stallone dresses like a woman to catch purse snatchers, but there is no indication in “Action Jackson” that it was supposed to be anything other than either a very masculine-looking woman or a very confidant man in a dress and wig. In fact when the perp tries to steal the purse you clearly hear a woman’s voice on the ADR while the large man in a mumu beats him with it. So I guess you could say that “Action Jackson” was either regressively of its time or progressively ahead of its time.
CJ: Either way, after the cops apprehend the perp they make sure to scare the shit out of him with the legend of Action Jackson, including the rumor that he is the offspring of Bigfoot. Later when the kid tries to escape and runs right into Jackson, spilling two cups of coffee on his desk in the process, Jackson stands up and tells him to “Mellow out,” which apparently causes him to do that incredibly theatrical version of fainting that people do in movies. I never thumb my nose at that rich comedy gold mine, but I’d much prefer a different take, where Jackson just beats the shit out of him or shoots him.
By the way, did anyone notice later on that Argyle from “Die Hard” is Action Jackson’s doorman/valet? Also, how much does Jackson make to have a doorman/valet? Didn’t his chief criticize him for being a low-paid cop? This could totally be a side story where Argyle starts off as the valet/doorman, then moves to the bright lights of Hollywood only to pick up John McClane. I call it “Argyle & His Shitty Jobs.”
Kevin: From what he discussed in the “Die Hard” Round Table about Argyle’s possible multiple personality disorder, it could very well be the same character who is parking Jackson’s car and then blowing off an assignment in Vegas in order to hang out in a parking garage all night for a New York cop he’s known for all of 20 minutes. Either way, after we finally get introduced to Jackson, his superior (played by “Predator” alumnus Bill Duke) proceeds to unnecessarily remind him of all the important events in his life, as if he’s doing it for the benefit of some unseen audience watching them:
“Sergeant, how long has it been since you lost your lieutenant stripes?”
“Jackson, in my years on the force I’ve never met a more dedicated policeman.”
“I know you are a proud man, and much to be proud of … high school track star, Harvard law degree…”
“No Jackson you cost you your stripes, no one else. You could have handled Sean Dellaplane more delicately … you nearly ripped that boy’s arm off.” (Setting up Jackson’s classic rejoinder, “So, he had a spare!”)
“Sergeant I don’t think I’m getting through to you; the Dellaplane case not only cost your lieutenant stripes, but it also cost you your gun permit, your marriage, and this department the kind of publicity we can gladly do without.”
Then for some bizarre reason Bill Duke sends Jackson to represent the department at a function celebrating the man whose sexual sadist son Jackson arrested and nearly ripped his arm off. I have a lot of questions about this decision, the main one being: For fuck’s sake, why?
Mike: It really is very strange that he sends Jackson to Peter Dellaplane’s Detroit “Man of The Year” award ceremony in his place. What’s his purpose for being there anyway? Is he working security or is he a symbolic police representative? Dellaplane’s people ask for a captain and instead they get an unarmed disgraced sergeant on the rubber gun squad, who Dellaplane just happens to also despise! At one point Bill Duke says this will be a test to make sure his “Action Jackson” days are in fact over. That’s a high stakes test if you ask this pussy right here! Why not start small? Instead, let’s see if Jackson can bust a few perverts under the Detroit overpass without leaving a trail of bodies in his wake and causing millions in damages.
Kevin: Well to be fair, Bill Duke would have been there, but as he explained to Jackson it was his wife’s “Parcheesi” night. Don’t know what “Parcheesi” is? Neither did I for the first 56 times I watched this movie. Apparently “Parcheesi” is typically “played with two dice, four pieces per player and a board with a track around the outside, four corner spaces, and four home paths leading to a central end space.”
Yeah I still have no idea what that means, it all just sounds like a perverted key party to me. Either way, Bill Duke could have avoided a lot of bloodshed if he just told his wife to reschedule her stupid 80’s fad bullshit for the next night so they could attend Dellaplane’s “Man of the Year” ceremony for literally less than an hour.
Anthony: Guys, Bill Duke’s character is named Earl Armbruster. There’s a name that just rolls off the tongue.
CJ: I always figure that any character played by Bill Duke is also named “Bill Duke.” I also think we don’t give enough credit to Bill Duke. He’s like the “True Lies” of actors: you always forget about him, and then when someone reminds you of his existence your reaction is, “Oh he’s great!” That’s Bill Duke. He pops up, and you’re never sure if he’s gonna play a calm, steady character, or if his eyes are gonna bug out and he goes on a murderous rape spree. He also makes the most salient point of the movie when he mentions that he wouldn’t be a cop if he had a Harvard law degree like Jackson. Yeah neither would I. I’d probably be Dellaplane.
Kevin: Speaking of his law background, I’ll note that during the ceremony we briefly catch Jackson debating an old white guy about CAULFIELD vs. NORTH CAROLINA, about which Jackson says, “Liability applies only if the individual is acting on his own accord and not as a representative of the governing body.” Sounds good to me, although I’ve done my research and I can’t find any evidence that this case ever existed.
Later after his visit with his paranoid coke-addled friend, we also find out that Carl Weathers and Robert Davi were on the same high school track team back in the day. This is like finding out that Steven Seagal and Gary Busey in “Under Siege” were on the same college debate team: it just doesn’t compute.
CJ: Shortly after Jackson leaves, assassin Gamble shows up at Davi’s door impersonating a UPS – sorry, an “APS” – delivery man and is quite pleased with himself for what he apparently believes is a great one-liner:
Me: COD means “Cash on Delivery.” Was he just staying in character as a delivery man? No one is around to laugh at his joke.
Anthony: Yeah out of NOWHERE Gamble kills Tony with the fake APS delivery routine right out of a “Looney Tunes” cartoon. Why all of a sudden did you guys shift from your usual tactic of breaking through windows and killing or blowing up everyone in sight? Were the supports of the building too sturdy for your typical two-ton C-4 plan?
Then after Tony has been killed by an obvious gunshot to the front of his chest and Jackson is identifying the body, the coroner casually mentions that his death has been ruled a suicide. A FUCKING SUICIDE?! Somebody kindly ask the coroner whether when he went to school for a History Science Degree, did he decide to make $20 on a dare from his drunk uncle that he couldn’t get a job as a coroner in Detroit?
Mike: While Gamble obviously enjoyed getting into character as a package delivery man, the “Invisible Men” quickly go back to their usual M.O. in what I call “The Lionel Grantham Assassination.” Forget Charles Bronson in “The Mechanic,” Shaker is truly the greatest hitman in the world! First, he and his guys quietly take out all of Grantham’s security guards and his entire boat crew, saving Grantham for last. Second, Shaker knocks on the door to Grantham’s cabin, Grantham answers it, Shaker handcuffs a bomb to him, kicks his ass for a few seconds, and then leaves him just enough time to open the briefcase to see that there is only 9 seconds left before detonation.
This means that before knocking on that door Shaker needed to do the following:
- Build a bomb.
- Buy a pair of handcuffs.
- Weld those handcuffs to the bomb.
- Determine how long it would take for Grantham to get up and come to the door.
- Estimate how long it would take to handcuff Grantham, beat him and knock him to the floor with just enough time to open the case, see the ticking clock and realize he fucked with the wrong people.
- Run off the boat and swim a few hundred yards to avoid the blast radius.
AND SHAKER DID IT!
Anthony: If someone ever punches me in the face and then handcuffs me to a metal briefcase, remind me to claw at the briefcase to see what’s in it without even glancing up at my attacker, because whatever is in the briefcase is a greater threat than that saint of a human being.
Kevin: After this we get the requisite 1980s scene establishing the bad guy as a legit fighter, in this case Dellaplane squaring off in a martial arts training session against James Lew, who in real life studied under Bruce Lee and who appeared in “Big Trouble in Little China” and “The Perfect Weapon” among others. I’m still confused though about what is going on. Is Dellaplane the student or is he the one doing the teaching? Why does he needlessly break that guy’s arm? Isn’t it going to be hard to find people to train with when the word gets out that you are a dick who constantly tries to maim the people who are just trying to help you improve your skills?
By the way, if you doubted that movies were better back then, this one gets both Vanity and Sharon Stone naked within a five-minute-period. (If you are watching at home, it’s around 29 minutes for Vanity and 34 minutes for Stone.)
Shortly after that Gamble, fresh off his critically acclaimed performance as the package delivery man, tackles his greatest role yet as a cab driver who tries to run Jackson and Mrs. Dellaplane over. I have a few thoughts about the chase scene that ensues:
A) Jackson can apparently keep foot with a car going 50 miles an hour (although he did run track according to Bill Duke).
B) At one point the chase causes an explosion which probably destroys several cars and kills half a dozen people. This is never brought up again.
C) Jackson punches his fist through the cab’s windshield, causing it to completely shatter with no damage to his hand at all.
D) Even though Gamble could easily shoot him, Jackson uses his oratorical law school skills to convince him to put down the gun and drive at him, at which point Jackson somehow somersaults over the car and briefly turns into a white person if you pause at the right time.
Anthony: I think Jackson is the only hero in action history to openly acknowledge that jumping onto the roof of a car as it speeds away is not the smartest idea. This is why there was no sequel. He broke that cardinal rule. Interestingly enough boys, Carl was in a totally unrelated film called “Dangerous Passion” (1990), which was re-titled “Action Jackson 2” in some countries, only to capitalize on the success. He played a man named Kyle … I’ll just leave it at that.
Kevin: Not only that but there is a Bollywood movie called “Action Jackson” that has made 887 million rupees, which apparently places it among the top 487 highest-grossing Indian movies ever.
But getting back to America’s own “Action Jackson,” this is probably as good a time as any to take an intermission and come back for Part 2. Before we wrap up though I wanted to highlight why this movie is so great and why movies in general were better back then. Late in the film Jackson has been captured by Dellaplane’s hit squad but he breaks free and gets the upper hand. A bad guy runs around and carries a jug of gas just so Jackson can say “Chill out” and then torches him and causes him to explode. Then he tells the last remaining bad guy, “Barbecue huh? How do you like your ribs?” before shooting a grenade launcher at him and causing him to burst into flames.
Why did we bother making films after this since we obviously perfected cinema at this point? Perhaps that’s a question we will answer in Part 2.
Come back soon for Part 2 of the “Action Jackson” Round Table, in which we:
- Suggest the Detroit Chamber of Commerce do a better job vetting their “Man of the Year” candidates.
- Stand up and cheer Peter Dellaplane’s technique for handling a nagging wife.
- Honor the memory of the late great Vanity by objectifying the shit out of her.
- See if we can drive a luxury car up a staircase as well as Jackson.
Until then, let’s all enjoy a cold refreshing King Cobra Malt Liquor: