Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986, Penny Marshall)

I was just reading–today or yesterday–Ken Levine talk about how there are no “balls-out R-rated” comedies with female leads. (His post is here). Jumpin’ Jack Flash is, obviously, a balls-out R-rated comedy starring a woman. Things have obviously changed in the last twenty years, both in film and television–female stand-ups don’t get TV shows and they don’t become movie stars. I missed Whoopi Goldberg’s career when it happened. My mother didn’t like all her swearing. I did see Ghost however, against my will. Goldberg is definitely a comedy star in Jumpin’ Jack Flash because comedy stars rarely have to act and Goldberg does not act in Jack Flash. She’s appealing enough and occasionally funny, but the film’s so dishonest, it’s hard to see past it. Jumpin’ Jack Flash doesn’t set Goldberg up as a sexual being–as in, a person who has had or ever will have, sex. The same thing happens in most of Denzel Washington’s films between 1989 and 2001, maybe later. These actors are starring with mostly white casts and mostly white “romantic” interests and interracial romance doesn’t play well for most white people. Not if conservatives wanted ABC fined extra for having the Desperate Housewife come on to a black football player. So, while she’s spayed and the racial element is ignored, Goldberg still does an all right job… she’s not responsible for the film’s biggest problems.

The premise of Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a bank worker who communicates with a spy over her computer–this film is from 1986, so just imagine the computers–and gets involved in espionage. They communicate by typing. During the second half of the film, once Goldberg’s heard the spy’s voice, his lines are spoken as they pop up on the computer screen. There’s one great scene when Goldberg isn’t looking at her screen and she still knows he’s typing, because she can hear his voice. Oh… maybe that scene’s not great. It’s a good example, however, of Jumpin’ Jack Flash’s direction. It’s directed by Penny Marshall and I’m using directed in the nicest way possible. Marshall had only had sitcom experience at this point in her… career and it shows. The film lacks any visual interest and, during the most action-orientated scenes, Jumpin’ Jack Flash becomes the antonym for exciting.

So, while Marshall did the film no good, whoever casted it did wonders. John Wood has some great scenes, so does Stephen Collins. The supporting cast features no standout performances, but it’s a laundry list of famous people-to-be: Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Jeroen Krabbé, Jim Belushi, Tracey Ullman and Jamey Sheridan. Very few scenes went by without me recognizing someone. So, however casted it, that person did a good job. Probably the best job in the movie… Because whoever decided to conclude the romance between Goldberg and her (white) spy without a) a kiss or b) hand-holding… Well, that person didn’t do a good job.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Penny Marshall; screenplay by David Franzoni, J.W. Melville, Patricia Irving and Chris Thompson, based on a story by Franzoni; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Whoopi Goldberg (Terry Dolittle), Stephen Collins (Marty Phillips), John Wood (Jeremy Talbott), Carol Kane (Cynthia), Annie Potts (Liz Carlson), Peter Michael Goetz (James Page), Roscoe Lee Browne (Archer Lincoln), Sara Botsford (Lady Sarah Billings), Jeroen Krabbé (Mark Van Meter), Vyto Ruginis (Carl), Jonathan Pryce (Jack), Tony Hendra (Hunter), Jon Lovitz (Doug) and Phil Hartman (Fred).

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