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Jake Speed [Blu-ray]
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When her sister is taken by a gang of white slavers, Margaret (Karen Kopins, Troop Beverly Hills) knows she needs a hero with a difference to bring her home. Enter Jake Speed (Wayne Crawford, Barracuda), leaping from the pages of pulp thriller novels and into the real world. With Margaret in tow and his trusty sidekick Desmond Floyd (Dennis Christopher, Chariots of Fire) in tow, Jake arrives hot on the heels of the kidnappers in a southern African country gripped by civil war. But it soon turns out Jake got more than he bargained for when he discovers that the ringleader of the slavers is none other than his own arch-nemesis: the wicked, criminally insane Sid (John Hurt, Alien, The Osterman Weekend)...
A ripe slice of 80s action cheese in the tradition of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone, Jake Speed has it all: romance, death-defying stunts, spellbinding scenery shot on location in Zimbabwe... and best of all, a wickedly off-the-wall performance by the late John Hurt, proving the old adage that a hero is nothing without a worthy foe.
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Like many I love the fun and witty 'action adventure' film, a genre of which was considerably reinvigorated in the 1980's following the huge success of 'Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark' (though admittedly this film seems more inspired by 1984's 'Romancing the Stone' than Indy's adventures).
Needless to say that in the wake of 'Ark's immense popularity numerous copyists quickly emerged seeking to emulate its winning formula and thus capitalise on its commercial success. Whilst many of these films were inevitably encumbered by diminutive budgets and simply intended as lazy cash-in's of Indy's character/adventures others had more money and the creative endeavour to try something a little different. 1985's 'Jake Speed' (henceforth JS) thankfully falls into the latter category. Just.
JS tells the story of American Margaret Winston's somewhat maladroit attempts to rescue her sister Maureen who was kidnapped in Paris by ruthless white slavers. Against her better judgment she casts her lot in with Des, faithful chum of the legendary pulp character Jake Speed (who's apparently a real person!) and together they bumble around an unnamed/fictional African country trying to find Maureen....
Shot in numerous countries and clearly on a decent enough budget to largely realise its scope and ambition JS beats 'Last Action Hero' by almost a decade with its intriguing and ingenious concept of blending the archetypal fictional pulp, grizzled male hero with 'reality'. Unfortunately JS doesn't quite succeed in clarifying just who or what Jake Speed actually is: Is he an imaginary character? A fictional hero magically manifested as real? A con man masquerading as fictional character? etc, etc.
The cast is generally good and there's some moderate chemistry between Jake and Margaret though Wayne Crawford clearly doesn't possess the irresistible charisma, raw masculine sex appeal (or indeed acting ability) of the Indy/Jack Colton type character he attempts to emulate. Thankfully the late great John Hurt both saves and steals the show as the hammy, slightly camp and deliberately cliched villain 'Sid' although his relatively late introduction into the film leaves JS without an identifiable antagonist for far too much of its running time.
The film's tone is a little uneven too with the usually adult-oriented 'white slavery' core plot depicted in somewhat surreal 'PG' fashion. In fact when the despicable 'Sid' is auctioning his enslaved girls to lascivious foreign buyers they are adorned in dressing gowns implying that some skimpy clothing is soon to be revealed beneath in order to 'show the merchandise'. Yet weirdly the girls stay fully clothed throughout begging the obvious question: why bother putting them in dressing gowns in the first place?!
The film's opening is a little contrived too with Maureen futilely attempting to evade her pursuing kidnapper through the streets of Paris.....in broad daylight and front of bemused Parisians and police alike!
Having previously bought the bog standard DVD of JS second hand only a year ago (the first I'd ever heard of it) I can confirm that this Blu Ray release by Arrow Films is a worthy upgrade. As is inevitable for releases of obscure films garnering niche audiences the transfer is good without being superb. Extras too are expectedly scarce but what's there is interesting and certainly worthy of inclusion.
One personal niggle is that the author of the collector's booklet betrays a rather overt (and unwelcome) political bias of which compels him to sneeringly denigrate both the 80's action/adventure film genre and the decade itself rather than, as one might expect in the circumstances, celebrate it (well at least the former!).
Jake Speed, despite its inherent flaws, is wonderfully enjoyable and well worth purchasing though could hardly be considered a neglected classic. Unlike many of its more derivative contemporaries though it commendably strives to distinguish itself by boasting a genuinely intriguing and ingenious premise - even if said premise isn't quite as well realised as it could've been. Recommended.
BONUS TRIVIA (!)
(Incidentally Rhodesian Bush War enthusiasts like myself will perhaps find more to enjoy in Jake Speed than the average viewer as it soon becomes apparent that the "unnamed African country setting" is quite obviously Zimbabwe! This is evidenced by the notable use of military spec Alouette 3 helicopters and 'Kudu' anti-mine vehicles ubiquitous to the war and of the former Rhodesian security forces that operated them!)
The film does not pretend to be a future classic, as my friend said when we saw it on cinema release. 'It's so bad, it's brilliant!' I believe it will become a future 'Cult' if it isn't already, mainly because it's memorable, I watched this on DVD the other day for the first time since 1986 and found that I remembered just about every line!
Grab the popcorn, take your seat and let it wash over you. Oh, the sound track is actually quite cool too.
Jake Speed is a hero from a series of novels, who battles for justice with his gun the kid. He comes to the aid of Margret whos younger sister has been kidnapped on a trip to france. Can Margret find Jake Speed in time to save her sister? This story travels to africa where the fun keeps coming.
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