Rated a paltry 4.6 / 10 at IMDB, and holding an insulting 10% Fresh rating at Rottentomatoes.com, Action Jackson statistically qualifies as a bad movie. Unfortunately, it is my own unbiased and totally academic assertion that these ratings are full of shit. If there were any justice in the world the soundtrack to Action Jackson would be our new national anthem, Carl Weathers would be president, and Craig T. Nelson would be the head of the CIA. Vanity would have Tyra Bank’s job, and Chino Williams would be brought back from the grave to do Morgan Freeman’s narration work.
Action Jackson is the last of what I call the Commando Crew movies. The Commando Crew was a stable of action-movie all stars from the 1980’s including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham and Bill Duke who appeared together in oiled-up guy flicks like Commando, Predator, The Running Man, and of course, Action Jackson. These guys slashed, shot, impaled, defenestrated, burned, and pummeled one another across the big screen from about 1985 to 1988 when their brand of bulletproof sweaty-muscled man-movie went out of vogue.
Knowing this creates a chicken-and-egg question: did Action Jackson fumble because Commando Crew movies were going by the wayside, or did Commando Crew movies go by the wayside because Action Jackson fumbled?
Action Jackson has two significant problems. First, it’s a movie out of place and time. It is unapologetic regarding its blaxploitation roots, and a lot of those genre tropes are here: a tough black cop who has to go underground to clear his name of a crime he didn’t commit (Carl “Chubbs” Weathers, as Jackson), a wealthy, white, corrupt, and politically connected heavy (Peter Deleplane, played excellently by Craig T. “Coach” Nelson), the heavy’s sexy moll (Prince protégé Vanity “I don’t have a last name so your clever middle name joke won’t work on me” as Sydney Ash) who has a change of heart and helps the hero – this movie knows exactly what it is.
Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like the audience ever did figure that out. For example, Roger Ebert thought the movie was trying to be too funny and too violent all at once and decried its inconsistent tone. Evidently, Mr. Ebert was not thinking of movies like Dolemite, Avenging Disco Godfather, Superfly, and the like, or he would have recognized Action Jackson for what it is: a mainstream experiment in blaxploitation.
Because so many of his feats seem to border on the superhuman, it can all be hard to swallow. Jackson can outrun a speeding car, smash the windshield with his bare hand, and then jump over that same car when it tries to run him over. He can beat up four guys at once, and as the concluding scenes of the movie show, bullets don’t do much more than make him slightly less enthusiastic about lovemaking than if he hadn’t been shot at all.
Jericho “Action” Jackson may as well be the son of Shaft and Foxy Brown. He is a mythic figure endowed with indomitable courage, titanic strength, and saintly compassion. For some reason, he also has a degree from Harvard law. It gets mentioned twice, (we learn this about Jackson as we do most other things – by people telling him stuff about himself that he already knows) but at no point does Jackson seem inclined to put what must be an encyclopedic knowledge of constitutional law into practice – mostly he just punches people.
But excusing all this metacriticism and just taking this flick as a bloody, explosive, damn-the-man-black-power romp, you still have to deal with the second and significantly more egregious problem in this movie: Sharon Stone. This movie was made in 1988 – Sharon wouldn’t show the world her private girl parts on screen for another 4 years, and while between A-J and Vajay-jay she seems to have taken at least one or two acting classes, her performance in here could be compared to a bad soap opera turn if it wouldn’t be so insulting to all the fine young performers on Guiding Light.
As an interesting side, Stone turns in a much improved performance with Commando Crew chairman Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1990’s Total Recall, but I digress: I do not know who Sharon Stone is sleeping with or has slept with or has incriminating pictures of to get the roles she gets, but I need that person to die.
The Aftermath: What to take away from Action Jackson.
One: Detroit cops are witty! These guys crack wise and trade jabs with each other all day. They uphold the law and they find time to come up with new and interesting ways to insult each other’s wives, mothers – all the important women in one another’s lives. This is probably because so many of them hold degrees from Harvard law.
Example: “Can that shit, Kornblau – there ain’t been any pussy at your pad since your mother helped you move in.”
Two: If you are Italian, do not listen to Pagliacci – You are going to die! Why would you sit out on a boat in the middle of the Detroit river listening to “Vesti la Giubba?” Have you never seen a movie? Do you not know that you’re in one?
Example: “I know, but…you’re interrupting an aria…” [ominous knock on door]
And finally, Three: No matter how long you live, whatever you do, no one will ever wait around for you to deliver a baritone one-liner before shooting them in the chest with a grenade launcher. You are not this cool. You are not this tough. You are not Jericho “Action” Jackson.
Example: “Barbeque, huh? How do you like your ribs?
Rental Rehab review by Vytautas Malesh