Today’s feature is the 1988 Carl Weathers super-cop movie, Action Jackson.
Action Jackson was written by Robert Reneau, who is best known for writing the screenplay for Demolition Man. The director for the film was Craig R. Baxley, who also helmed the Dolph Lundgren movie Dark Angel (AKA I Come In Peace). However, he is most known for being a veteran stunt coordinator, with a career on such productions as Predator and The Warriors.
The cinematographer for Action Jackson was Matthew F. Leonetti, who also shot the movies Santa’s Slay, The Butterfly Effect, Red Heat, Commando, and The Bat People. The editor for the movie was Mark Helfrich, who has cut films like R.I.P.D., Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, and the Cannon movie Revenge of the Ninja.
The producers for Action Jackson were Steve Perry (Speed 2: Cruise Control, Executive Decision, Road House) and Joel Silver (Speed Racer, Dungeons & Dragons, Swordfish, Hudson Hawk, Predator 2, Xanadu).
The musical score for Action Jackson was composed by the team of Michael Kamen (X-Men, Iron Giant, Event Horizon, Last Action Hero, Hudson Hawk, The Dead Zone) and noted jazz-funk pianist Herbie Hancock (Death Wish, ‘Round Midnight).
The team of effects workers on Action Jackson included Andrew Sebok (Memento, The Last Boy Scout, Die Hard, Road House), Jay Bartus (Jingle All The Way, Dark Angel, Seven Psychopaths), Al Di Sarro (Speed 2: Cruise Control, Red Dragon, Predator), James Camomile (Swordfish, Heaven’s Gate), Scott H. Eddo (Judge Dredd, Hudson Hawk, Mystery Men, Saw),
The cast of Action Jackson includes Carl Weathers (Predator, Rocky, Arrested Development), Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist, Coach), Vanity (Never Too Young To Die, The Last Dragon), Sharon Stone (Casino, Basic Instinct), Thomas Wilson (Back To The Future, April Fool’s Day), Robert Davi (Predator 2, Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3), and Bill Duke (Predator, Commando).
The concept for Action Jackson, a blaxploitation-inspired police action movie with Weathers in the lead, was conceived of on the set of Predator. As a result, the two productions have a number of common elements both in front of and behind the camera.
Vanity wound up receiving a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for her role in Action Jackson, which are given out to the judged worst performances and movies of the year. She ultimately lost out to Liza Minelli for her performances in Rent-A-Cop and Arthur 2: On The Rocks.
The hope was for Action Jackson to mark the first in a series of films, making up a franchise for years to come. Unfortunately, though the movie grossed $20 million domestically on a budget of $7 million, the reviews were overwhelmingly negative: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 10% (critics) and 32% (audience), alongside an IMDb rating of 5.1. Adding on top of the complications, the production company and its library/rights were soon sold, making a sequel even more unlikely.
In regards to performances, Carl Weathers was enjoying himself throughout making Action Jackson, and is solid throughout the film likely because of that. I personally didn’t think Vanity was all that bad, particularly when compared with her other acting roles before this. Craig T. Nelson, on the other hand, is absolutely top-of-the-line as the antagonist in this movie.
As you would expect given the director’s history with stunt work, Action Jackson is filled with solid stunts of every variety, culminating in a sports car rampaging through a mansion. The stunts help build the generally fun and exciting tone for the movie, which is careful never to take itself too seriously, but never goes so far as to wink to the camera.
My biggest criticism of Action Jackson is that it seems to drag on just a little too long for what it is, but I think it does a good enough job of staying interesting throughout the run time. Most of the criticisms I have seen have either claimed that it is too boring, or too light-hearted in tone for how violent the content is. For instance, here is a blurb from Roger Ebert’s review:
Rarely have comedy and gruesome violence been combined in such a blithe mixture, as if the violence didn’t really count.
I can perhaps see how a violent action-comedy wouldn’t have flown for many people in 1988, but this is not some excessively violent flick by today’s standards of action comedy. Honestly, the content didn’t really occur to me at all while watching the movie. It isn’t dramatically different from something you would see in an average police-focused television drama nowadays, and I didn’t think it ruined the comedy or vice-versa in any sense. It seems to me that people have warmed to the movie over the years, as it was perhaps a bit ahead of its time in that regard.
When it comes to blaxploitation send-up movies, Black Dynamite is definitely my favorite of the lot, but Action Jackson is a solid, more serious homage to the genre. It isn’t a “good” movie by any means, but I think it is successful in being what it was intended to be. I think it deserves a second look from people nowadays at the very least, because it strikes me as having been written off a bit too hastily.