Kevin: It’s appropriate that we are just coming off of Valentine’s Day, as it’s hard to imagine a love greater than the one that Tough Guy Digest shares for the Carl Weathers classic “Action Jackson,” which came out 30 years ago this week on Feb. 12, 1988. Actually it’s hard to imagine anyone not loving “Action Jackson,” because this movie has it all: Weathers at his most charismatic, Vanity and Sharon Stone at their most seductive, Craig T. Nelson at his most unexpectedly evil, more explosions and broken glass than 20 action flicks put together, and a luxury car being driven around the second floor of a mansion. In lieu of candy and flowers, TGD is showing how much we heart one of the most underratedly awesome action films of the 1980’s with a flashback to our epic two-part Round Table on Detroit’s finest non-robotic cop, “Action Jackson”:
(Originally posted Jan. 16, 2017)
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 (oh hi “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).
- From just the opening few minutes, here is why this movie is great. After he shoots by my count 28 bullets from his Beretta without reloading, 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 in history, 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 ‘80s 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?
- 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.
- Admire Dellaplane’s dedication to trying to shoot Vanity full of heroin even while Jackson is driving a car through his house.