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From the mists of time: “I, the Jury”

July 5, 2015

 

MPW-44527

It’s tempting to call 1982’s I, the Jury a sleazy, pulpy , mercenary adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s 1947 novel, but that would ignore just how sleazy and pulpy Spillane’s novel is in the first place. Sure, the movie basically jettisons big chunks of Spillane’s plot and fills it in with crap about mind-control and the CIA, but Spillane probably would have done that if he’d thought of it at the time (and who knows, he might have used it in later novels—he wrote, like, a million of them). No, this I, the Jury is just as trashy and lurid as its source material (which courted controversy upon its release for its violence and sex), adjusted, of course, for for 1982 sensibilities, and that amounts to very lurid and trashy. I mean, there’s a reason that during my childhood, this movie was the Holy Grail of HBO’s early offerings, and it’s not the snazzy soundtrack.

The film begins more or less the same as the novel. Wait…nope, let’s back that up. The movie actually begins with Spillane’s iconic hero (I feel there should be quotes around that) Mike Hammer (Armand Assante) taking a job looking after the beautiful and hot-to-trot wife of some not-entirely-trusting poor dupe. Smash cut to Hammer banging her while he gives the husband a double entendre-laden progress report (“I’m busting my balls on this one…don’t worry, I’ll keep it up…” he’s like a sleazier version of Roger Moore’s 007). Then we get the opening credits sequence, and, wow, what an opening credits they are. Basically a series of stills of Armand Assante  trying to seduce the camera, while Bill Conti’s score (which could only be described as “‘70s-as-all-fuck”) wails in the background. From all this we can conclude 1) Hammer is kind of a dick, and 2) whoever designed the main titles really wanted to bone Armand Assante. I hope they got the chance to.

From here the story begins as it does in the novel: Hammer’s one-armed war-veteran buddy is murdered, and if there is one thing you absolutely do not do is kill Mike Hammer’s buddy. Hammer then proceed to investigate the case using his personal technique of being giant dick and killing everyone he meets. Well, he doesn’t everybody, he…no, wait, yeah actually he does.

Mike Hammer starting his day...

Mike Hammer starting his day…

It helps that the villains are both incredibly loathsome and ridiculously cartoony. I, the Jury has trouble sustaining a unified tone aside from “sleaze.” For example, the movie features a twisted serial rapist/killer who sexually terrorizes his victims before gutting them (in one case on a water bed which gushes bloody water). But then throws in such goofiness as the scene in a Benihana, as a witness who is just about to give up the goods to Hammer suddenly has her throat cut by the chef (Wait, was the chef an assassin who was working undercover in Benihana in the off chance someone who needed to be killed sometime might eat there and at his table? Was he like “Finally! Maybe I’ll get transferred to the Cheesecake Factory after this”?) Or when another witness (also about to give the info to Hammer) is killed on the set of a movie when the hit man fires a knife out of some kind of a knife-gun at him. Do knife-guns exist? Isn’t that kind of redundant? And why do these bad guys wait until someone is about to spill the beans to kill them? Seems like a little preventative measures would go a long way.

The improbabilities required to make this scene work will make your head explode.

The improbabilities required to make this scene work will make your head explode.

 

When Hammer isn’t killing people, he’s pretty much having sex with every woman in the movie, which is made easier by the fact his mere presence makes women all but present like baboons in heat. And, hey, this makes sense; he’s 1980’s Armand Assante, after all. He’s a beautiful man. His primary conquest Charlotte Bennett, an icy sex therapist played by Barbara Carrera…and boy is she ever (yeah, I think we can just make “Barbara Carrera” an adjective).  But on top of that, there’s a set of nubile blonde twins (because of course there are), and, true to the books, he manages to resist the advances of his beautiful, spunky gal-Friday Velda (Laureen Landon who steals her every scene). Basically, Mike Hammer lives a life that might have been fantasized by a 15 year-old boy: when he’s not killing dudes, he’s totally nailing chicks.

I gotta use his staffing agency.

I gotta use his staffing agency.

Bennett runs a tony sex clinic which Hammer’s buddy attended with his wife to help their ailing marriage (it’s hinted that both parties have weird sexual hang-ups, probably due to the fact that she has a horse-face, and he looks like a potato). The clinic, as one would expect, is merely a front for a CIA mind-control operation run by a ruthless CIA officer. Naturally, he is using the clinic to program assassins (the CIA must have done some weird shit before drones were invented). It’s an overly complicated scheme that also somehow involves the mafia (because the mafia is like the CIA’s ex-con brother-in-law, apparently). Anyway, the plot’s so ridiculous that it seems downright appropriate that the movie ends with Hammer assaulting a villain’s compound with a machine gun.  It’s not really in keeping with detective novels, but it’s perfect for this movie.

Oh, and I totally missed why his buddy got killed. Really, it’s not that important.

Barbara was interfering my normal brain functions.

Barbara was interfering my normal brain functions.

But this mere synopsis doesn’t really convey how much sleaze there is to wade through in this film. Shocking, I know, that a movie which features a sex clinic as a plot-point would be sleazy, but there you go. Said sex clinic is the reason why a hardboiled detective movie can contain an orgy scene dropped in the middle of it like some excised footage from Caligula. But fear not, for hack director Richard T. Heffron puts it to good use, but cutting between the orgy and a scene of the serial killer attacking the aforementioned twins (we’ve already seen them naked, so they’re expendable now). I’m sure he thought it was terribly artistic to juxtapose the brutal stabbing of the twins on a water bed to a lot of middle-aged people’s O–faces.

Any given day in the life of Mike Hammer.

Any given day in the life of Mike Hammer.

So–there’s really no easy way to put this—Armand Assante basically plays Mike Hammer as a really bad New York character actor. Who’s coked to the gills. Assante is a native of New York City, but he still manages to dial his Noo Yawkiness up to about 20. He brings it right to the edge of parody and then sprints right past it–shooting his cuffs, mushing his vowels, and basically Guido-ing it up as much as possible. Give him this, though: his delivery of the movie’s (and the book’s) last line it simply perfect.

Any given day in the life of Mike Hammer.

Any given day in the life of Mike Hammer.

So, that’s I, the Jury. Lots of sex, violence, outlandish plot developments, and Armand Assante simply consuming the scenery. Mickey Spillane would be proud. Well, maybe not.  Either way, he’d cash the check.

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