(Originally posted April 20, 2017)
Kevin: We kicked off our “One and Done” series – examining the actors Hollywood tried and failed to turn into action stars – with 1985’s “Gymkata,” in which former world-class gymnast Kurt Thomas enters a deadly tournament and somehow always finds makeshift pommel horses when needed. A few years later – with Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme proving to be reliable investments at the box office – studios were searching for other legit fighters they could groom into future big-screen stars, as long as they were white of course (because who’s ever heard of an Asian martial artist?). Today Mike and I take a look at Paramount’s attempt at turning bland kenpo black belt Jeff Speakman into the next big thing with 1991’s “The Perfect Weapon”:
Now first off, Jeff Speakman gets one of the lamest introductions for someone the studio is trying to launch as an action star. He’s shown as some lowly digger on a construction crew, and after his foreman gives him permission to take a water break the movie starts playing “I Got the Power” as if he is doing something badass. We then cut to him showing off his kenpo moves, which would be more impressive if he wasn’t doing them in what looks like a really depressing studio apartment in the slums. It doesn’t make him look like a karate master, it mainly makes him look like someone who doesn’t have a lot going on on a Saturday night.
Mike: Jeff Speakman has the physique of a newly single middle-aged man who is trying to turn his life around. Speakman’s also apparently keeping his physique in shape by shoveling dirt for no apparent reason. He’s not even shoveling convincingly! He’s just kind of lackadaisically moving dirt from one place to another with no sense of urgency or meaning, kind of like this film. I’m also pretty sure they could have tacked a few more minutes onto the opening kenpo montage. Why cap it at four minutes? We need to see more of Jeff flexing and doing interpretive dance.
Kevin: After working up a sweat he puts on a really filthy bathrobe and decides it’s a good time to call his old neighborhood mentor Kim out of the blue, just when Kim happens to be in the middle of getting shaken down by the Korean mafia. We also discover that Jeff Speakman plays a character named “Jeff,” putting him in the tradition of Jackie Chan, who in his Hong Kong movies often played characters named “Jackie” and sometimes even “Jackie Chan.” It never not sounded weird hearing some police captain character saying, “So you don’t think the rules apply to you, Detective Jackie Chan!”
Mike: Now as far as I am concerned, Kim was pretty disrespectful to that criminal in the beginning of the movie. The guy just wanted to store some narcotics in Kim’s back room, but Kim had to get all uppity. No wonder they sent Odd Job to settle the score. I’d be pissed too!
He even takes a phone call from Jeff while the guy is talking. Have you ever been in a convenience store and you’re waiting in line forever, and then when it’s finally your turn the phone rings and the cashier picks it up and starts dealing with that customer instead of you? It makes you want to kill someone! Same principle.
Then are we to believe that just because Kim’s phone call got cut off midway through that that’s enough for Jeff to jump in his car and make the 7-hour trip from New Mexico to the Paramount Studios back lot? Why didn’t he just call back? Kim wasn’t dead yet!
Kevin: Yes, this movie takes place on one of the most obvious studio lots I’ve ever seen. Almost all the action takes place in like a two-block radius. I am surprised we didn’t see the cast of “Mad About You” walking by in the background.
Either way, while driving to L.A. to check on Kim, Jeff starts remembering his entire history with the old man, including the wavy screen effects meant to simulate a flashback and two different actors playing him as a child and teenager. Wait, is this supposed to be a true story? I feel like I’m watching the shitty action movie version of “Once Upon a Time in America.”
Teenage Jeff at one point beats up a football player who has assaulted his little brother, and for some reason his tough cop dad is really upset with him about that. Like he acts like Jeff is some kind of human weapon of mass destruction that needs to be isolated for the good of mankind, when all he looks like to us is some skinny twerp.
Mike: His father also says that this was the third time he had to pick him up from the station, but don’t you work at the fucking police station? Maybe he’s just trying to visit your ass!?
It’s really weird, his dad basically embodies the exact opposite of every macho dad cliché in the book. He’s mad because his son wasn’t a total pussy when the situation reared itself. “This is my awful son. He takes karate, is a star athlete, and defends his younger brother when he’s being picked on … I know, he’s a disappointment to me as well.”
It’s hard to believe I’m only 10 minutes in and I’ve written this many complaints already.
So Jeff is sent to kenpo school when he’s about seven years old. Eight or nine years later his father still hates him and rubs his temper in his face. Hey, maybe the kenpo isn’t working then?!!?!?!!?!
Kevin: After getting kicked out of the house by his dad, Jeff’s wonderful mentor and father figure Kim doesn’t even offer to let him crash on his couch for a few days. We don’t see how the high-school-age pretty boy survives on the streets, but I think we all know the answer: gay for play.
Mike: Before I forget, did anyone else catch the little speech about the tiger and the dragon from Jeff’s sensei? Basically he says, “You’re only a tiger, not a dragon … a tiger does not think … a tiger is strong and fearless … that is the difference between man and tiger. A dragon is also very strong and full of wisdom.” Someone needs to explain to this guy that tigers actually exist in the real world, while dragons were invented by George R.R. Martin.
Either way, Jeff finally gets to Kim and helpfully beats the shit out of three Golden Fist members in the process (one of them does the thing where he breaks Jeff’s wooden stick in half, which in action movies always gives that person the advantage).
Kevin: While cleaning up, Kim possibly outs himself as a closet Trump supporter: “Koreans come to America because it is the greatest country. They work hard, save money, become citizens, open businesses like mine (Me: his business looks really shitty by the way). But every ship brings rats along with regular cargo. Korean mafia comes along too; drugs, prostitution, parasites!”
Also, Mariska Hargitay was attractive at one point. Who knew?
Mike: Kim takes a headbutt to the face and dies instantly, which he deserves especially since he let a 500-pound man sneak up on him in a completely quiet house.
Kevin: That leads Jeff to begin his investigation into who killed Kim, and I know Bruce Wayne is considered the world’s greatest detective, but not by anyone who has seen Jeff in action. His main technique for finding out who killed Kim is to go around beating everyone he comes across while yelling, “Who killed Kim?!”
For instance, Jeff enters a training center and asks for information about a guy he saw harassing Kim before he was killed. He says if he beats up three guys then they’ll have to tell him what he needs to know, but they have probably already figured out you can tell Jeff anything and he’ll believe you. Also the first guy Jeff fights is James Lew, last seen by Tough Guy Digest getting his arm broken by that lovable prick Peter Dellaplane during a training session in “Action Jackson.”
Mike: Yeah Jeff basically asks everyone he sees “Who killed Kim?,” and no matter what they say he believes the answer outright. How many twists and turns can there be over one elderly Korean guy?
Anyway, Jeff’s father didn’t want his violence and hot temper to be a bad influence on his younger brother Adam, so instead Adam grows up to become a cop, a group of people certainly not associated with extreme reactions often involving unnecessary violence.
Kevin: On that note, Jeff and his cop brother get into an argument in an alley. Little brother says Jeff is partly responsible for Kim’s murder. Jeff smacks him, at which point little brother pulls a gun on him! Jesus that escalated quickly, he even had the hammer pulled back and everything.
Mike: Also, Adam is a cop and a lifelong friend of Kim. He even refers to Kim as “family,” yet he’s completely clueless as to Kim’s neighborhood or how to navigate around it as a cop looking for information.
Completely unrelated, but how the hell does Jeff’s jacket sleeves stay up all movie long?
Back to the movie: Yung, a friendly neighborhood mob boss played by James Hong, invites Jeff into the back of his limo to have a talk. Nothing suspicious about that!
Kevin: Yes Yung is apparently one of four crime lords who each control a piece of Koreatown, and he tells Jeff that he was a friend of Kim’s and wants to see justice done. Oh and he has a pretty good idea that his killer must have been one of the other three crime lords, because it definitely wasn’t him. Jeff of course has no possible reason to suspect that this guy may have an ulterior motive for wanting one of his rivals killed.
So Jeff goes to kill Sam, one of the rival mob bosses. But just as he is about to snap his neck, a kid who had been taken in by Kim – played by Rufio from “Hook” – says Sam didn’t kill Kim, Yung did. By the way, Sam Kim Yung sounds like a delicious Asian dish.
Mike: “Everyone in Koreatown knows Yung killed Kim!,” according to Rufio. So if that’s the case, wouldn’t everyone know that Yung is manipulating this fucking jackass Jeff Speakman?!
Kevin: Anyway, it turns out that for a murderous mob boss, Sam is a really great guy and a pillar of the community. When he tells Jeff that Yung tried to set him up, Jeff replies, “Why should I believe you?” Oh now all of a sudden he wants a little thing called proof before killing someone. Jesus, if Jeff Speakman had starred in “Body Heat” it would have been 20 minutes long, he would have agreed to kill Richard Crenna before the opening credits were done, and Kathleen Turner wouldn’t have even needed to fuck him.
But don’t worry, Jeff’s brief skepticism was just a passing fancy; he once again immediately believes the word of this other criminal and goes off to kill Yung. Man apparently all it takes to be the last crime lord standing in this neighborhood is to be the one who talked to Jeff most recently.
Jeff’s brother says he can’t kill Yung, because “there’s only one line between us and them.” Yeah, when you cops kill people based on flimsy circumstances you get to hang out at home and still get paid. Also, didn’t you just pull a gun on your own brother yesterday?
Gee I wonder if Jeff will have a chance to kill Yung, but right as he’s about to will decide that he’s “not worth it,” but then Yung will try and stab him in the back or something and then Jeff will be able to kill him based on the “murder is morally right if the other guy is a dick” rule.
Jeff finds out where Yung is going to be thanks to Rufio, who apparently knows where Yung’s warehouse is, how he makes his drugs, how many men he has, and how he plans on getting out of the country. With Rufio’s ability to actually find out important information, and Jeff’s ability to do whatever anyone tells him to, they are gonna make a great team.
Before infiltrating Yung’s warehouse, Jeff pulls out a big duffle bag, and we await the awesome Rambo-like arsenal he’s about to pull out. Turns out it’s just a couple of knives and some wooden fighting sticks. He then uses the sticks to beat the hell out of an old dirty couch, which actually looks like it would fit right in at Jeff’s shitbox apartment.
Mike: Jeff’s “unboxing” of the bag of survival gear is truly the biggest letdown in movie history. Rambo had guns, a huge knife, a camera, and explosive arrows. Jeff has fewer weapons than the trunk of my car did when I was in high school.
Kevin: Even though they are different sports, I can’t believe we didn’t see previous “One and Done”-er Kurt Thomas try this pole vault move. Maybe because it’s even too stupid-looking for him:
While fighting in the warehouse, Jeff hits a guy in the chest with a knife and he falls from some scaffolding through a window to the ground below, so I think his “no killing” policy is already getting stretched a bit.
Yep, here’s Jeff to Yung: “I really want to kill you … but you’re not worth it.” Thank god Seal Team 6 didn’t follow this pussy philosophy. C’mon, I mean he’s kind of worth it.
Either way, Jeff takes in Yung alive, and he only kills two people (actually probably at least a few more who later died from blood loss or brain trauma), so he’s totally like the modern-day version of Andrew Garfield’s character in “Hacksaw Ridge.”
Mike: Yeah Jeff won’t kill but he will put himself in a situation where people will have to die because he’s there, so what’s the fucking difference really?! Also, his tight-assed dad seems to have done a complete 180 on him. It’s not like Jeff’s actions at the end of the movie are demonstrative of a change in his personality. He still makes mistakes and does the wrong thing! He could have just called his damn father. Yung was wanted after all!
Kevin: We briefly see Mariska Hargitay again at the end. Seriously why was she in this movie? She has like one line of dialogue, she has no importance to the plot, she doesn’t even sleep with Jeff. Normally I’d say her subplot got cut for time, but this piece of shit is already less than 80 minutes.
The screen fades to black and we see the following text: “This film is dedicated to Ed Parker and the spirit of Kenpo.” Ed Parker just called from Heaven, he says go fuck yourselves.
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