RIP Vanity: “Action Jackson”

February 16, 2016

Poor Action Jackson. It’s like the dinosaur that just keeps on scampering through the jungle, blithely ignoring the funnel of ash kicked up by the meteorite that hit yesterday. In other words, it was dead but just didn’t know it yet. By its premiere in February of 1988, we’d already had Lethal Weapon and Above the Law, and the summer would bring us Die Hard—all of which heralded the arrival of lean, wily action heroes who got by more on wit and cleverness than bulk. The era of the muscle-bound, solo action hero was over, and Carl Weathers arrived at the party too late to build his own franchise. Of course, now we can look back and appreciate it for the dumb fun that it was. What’s cool about Action Jackson? Well…

Carl Weathers: Is there a more avuncular action star than Weathers? I sure don’t know. The guy’s just so jolly, that even when he’s supposed to be pissed-off in this movie as a cop who lost his gun and rank after an excessive force complaint, he just looks so happy. When he tangles with his boss (Bill Duke, who could look angry getting a hummer from Rihanna) and says, “Yeah, I damn near ripped off the scumbag’s arm…but  he had two of them!” you just want to hug him.

Look at him. He’s adorable! Like a black, muscular E.T.

Everyone wants to beat up Carl Weathers: This, of course, makes no sense at all. Here I am, a bad guy, and Carl Weathers is standing in my way. How do I handle this? Should I a) punch this 200+pound slab of sheer muscle while snarling threatening things, or b) do something more prudent like drop the engine-block of a truck on him? Weirdly enough, everyone in this movie chooses option A. I guess what I’m saying is nobody’s very smart in this movie.

Action Jackson doesn’t carry a gun: In the film, he’s no longer allowed to after his excessive-force complaint, but this means we get a lot of scenes of Weathers punching out people who really should know better (as in: “he’s not carrying a gun; hand me the elephant-rifle”). It makes the movie more fun, because, well, watching Weathers beat people up is a little like watching a big black Labrador frolic in a park. He just seems like he’s having such a good time.

Guess who wins this one…

It’s a Detroit time-capsule: Action Jackson is a great look back at the Detroit of 1988 (and, um, Denver), when that great motor city was losing the auto industry and sinking into urban decay. All-in-all it’s a nostalgic look at a time before Detroit was an largely-abandoned urban hellscape and merely a crime-ridden urban hellhole. I guess what I’m saying is that Detroit has sucked for a long time.

The Auto-Workers’ Union is a force to be reckoned with: Much of the villain’s plot is to neutralize the auto-worker’s union (called something else, but I forget what). Much like the last point, it’s an interesting look back at the days when this union was a massive, monolithic power-making machine. You know, before the decline of the auto-industry crippled it, and their humungous pension-structure damn near demolished the entire industry by 2008.

Now THIS is a movie poster!

Sharon Stone, before she got famous:  She plays the wife of uber-villain Craig T. Nelson, and she mostly gets to play scared, imperiled, and eventually dead. It’s weird seeing her in a vulnerable state, and a reminder that she was an actress before she was a star. A hot actress who gets naked. Can’t say this movie doesn’t know what it’s doing.

Vanity: As Jackson’s smack-addicted, eventual love-interest she’s…well, she’s incredibly hot. This was her period in the wilderness after Prince’s promises of fame and success had evaporated, and she was well into a decline into drug abuse. And while that’s totally not cool, and I feel bad for what she went through…well, she’s just so damn gorgeous. Uh, silver lining?

Man, being a super-villain is awesome!

Jackson drives a car through a house: He totally does! It’s awesome! He drives it up the stairs and everything!

The totally random bouncer: Guarding Vanity’s dressing room is a huge African American bouncer in a natty suit. Jackson squares off with him and says, “I suppose if I hit you again you’d like nothing more than to bounce my tiny body off these walls,” and the guy just smiles beatifically and replies, “Yes, but that would violate my Muslim beliefs.” What? Where the hell did that come from? I don’t care, it’s hilarious.

The bad guy with the grenade-launcher: Yeah, one of the bad guys wields an ARWEN grenade-launcher when he faces Jackson. He may be the smartest guy in this whole movie.

Anyone else think Craig’s working through his Mandingo fantasies in this scene?

So, that’s Action Jackson. It’s a lot of fun. You can see why they kept referencing it on Arrested Development. At least I think they did, I can’t quite remember (I’ve moved on, and other people should too).

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