Children of Bond - Jake Speed

Jake Speed is a forgotten 1986 action adventure film directed by Andrew Lane. What we have here is a modern day Indiana Jones variant. Think Romancing the Stone with a much smaller budget. Although the acting is rather variable and the story doesn't always bear close inspection the film is a guilty pleasure if one isn't too pedantic. Jake Speed has some heart and a positive message and these qualities mitigate some of the flaws. The hero is interesting too as far as action heroes go. He's not Arnold Schwarzenegger or Rambo. He's flawed and strangely plausible.
There are some obvious James Bond riffs also - especially a sequence where Speed is in a remote barn in a sticky situation and has a high-tech car parachuted from the sky 007 style to save him. Jake Speed seems like an obvious attempt to create a new Bond style action franchise but - sadly or not - that didn't happen in the end.
The film begins in Paris where young American Maureen Winston (Becca C Ashley) and a friend are chased and then kidnapped by dodgy foreigners armed with guns as eighties music pounds away on the soundtrack. Back in the United States, Maureen's family is frustrated by the lack of progress in finding her through official channels and their other daughter, Margaret (Karen Kopins), is most guilt-ridden of all because it was her that suggested Maureen should go and see something of the world in the first place.
Things look bleak but Margaret's Grandfather (Leon Ames) comes up with an interesting - and on the face of it completely bonkers - suggestion of his own. Grandpa seems to believe that pulp heroes like Doc Savage and Remo Williams are actually real people and suggests hiring one of these legendary characters to locate and rescue Maureen. "There are a few, a very few men," he muses. "Remo. Mack Bolan. Jake Speed. In this case, I think Jake Speed's the man for the job."
Unsurprisingly, Grandpa's solution is dismissed as the mutterings of an old man who can probably no longer distinguish between fantasy and reality but Margaret still can't resist having a flip through a Jake Speed pulp paperback she spots a news stand. "Sure he's real," replies the vendor with not a small note of sarcasm. "Everybody knows that. In fact, I play cards with him every Thursday night. Me, Jake Speed, Batman, Sherlock Holmes and, once in a while, Superman stops in."
But when Margaret receives a note asking her to meet Jake Speed (Wayne Crawford) and his sidekick Desmond Floyd (Dennis Christopher) in a dingy bar if she ever wants to see her sister alive again, she drags along friend Wendy (Donna Pescow) and meets the man purporting to be the hero from the pulp adventures. Speed tells them that Maureen is now in Africa being held by slave traders and they must all travel there together. "Are you ready for an adventure?" asks Desmond.
The only two problems are that the African country they must journey to is teetering on the edge of violent civil war and revolution and Margaret has to decide if Jake and Desmond are for real or elaborate fraudsters...
In Leonard Maltin's Film Guide, which must have been the size of a house in the end, Jake Speed is awarded the lowest possible rating (BOMB) and lead actor Wayne Crawford is described as having all the star appeal of a can of tuna, his casting explained by him having produced the film. He may have a point old Leonard, Crawford not evoking memories of Cary Grant, but Jake Speed is more fun than his annual volume would suggest.
The film starts with some wonderfully weird vaguely panpipe eighties music (the score was composed by Mark Snow of X-Files fame) and we seem to be deep in the bowels of a ship. A lightning flash sizzles the legend 'Jake Speed' into a barrel and then Maureen is duly being chased around Paris by evil looking foreign men. This beginning is possibly a tad racist in retrospect, American female tourists in France hopefully safer from evil foreign slave traders than this film would suggest.
jake speed
Karen Kopkins as heroine Margaret is not Karen Allen or Kathleen Turner, coming across more like a brunette version of the soppy Kate Capshaw from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with thoroughly inappropriate costumes and nails for the hardships of a dusty war torn African country. When she finally meets Jake Speed for the first time it's in a seedy bar and Speed is rather gruff. Although we gather Jake Speed is one of the most dangerous men on the planet (customers warily back away when he enters), Crawford struggles slightly to convey this, dressed as he is in a checked shirt and suit jacket which makes him look like an off-duty geography teacher attending a seminar on rain and its relation to wetness.
We meet Jake's trusty sidekick Desmond and this is good fun for me anyway because Desmond is played by a bespectacled Dennis Christopher, the star of Breaking Away, one of my favourite films of all time. Desmond is like Jake Speed's Dr Watson, writing the adventures they have in fictional form to fund them - the pair never charging any money to their clients. "If all this were about money, I'd be working for the wrong side most of the time." says Jake. As the film progresses it becomes apparent that Jake Speed has a lavish supply of deadpan stock phrases relating to the eternal battle between good and evil and the nature of being a hero. "Evil may triumph but it'll never conquer."
Not a major studio film, Jake Speed often looks like one of those Cannon action films of the same era featuring Chuck Norris or a geriatric Charles Bronson. Africa is conveyed in the usual action film manner; dustball isolated villages, children trying to sell the characters fruit on the street, dingy hotels. Speed adopts more action hero type attire here and the film attempts to float/crawl along on the mild comic banter and romantic flirtations between Jake and Margaret. These romantic flirtations are mostly one way as Margaret regards Speed to be something of an oaf at first - the apparent gap between fantasy and reality a big disappointment.
There are numerous references to Jake's pulp adventures as Margaret tries to work out if he is real or not and while the film offers no huge surprises this ambiguity is mined to modest effect to give the picture a slight twist. "Ever try to deal with those people?" replies Jake when Margaret asks him why they've never made a Jake Speed film. There is surprisingly little action for stretches but things pick up when their hotel is blown to smithereens and Jake turns out to have a special shotgun ("That's why they call it a concealed weapon!") that can blow up walls.
jake speed
There are one or two ludicrous but enjoyable moments in the film, one such coming when Speed, awaiting an important delivery in the barn, has his car parachuted to their location from the sky. The car has machine guns etc and we see it in action enough to get our money's worth. I wouldn't mind seeing a jungle escape featuring a high-tech jeep in a Bond film. That could have some potential.
The biggest ace the film has up its sleeve though is the fact that John Hurt - for reasons best known to his bank manager - was roped in to play the slave trading villain, a lecherous and oleaginous Englishman called Sid, and Hurt does this with some relish albeit only for the last twenty or so minutes. "I take great pride in 'aving never lived up to anything!" snarls Sidney. You can see a satisfied look on Crawford's face that says - I'm in a film with John Hurt! Sid is like a Bond villain hammed to oblivion.
It's not Sean Connery matching wits with Auric Goldfinger but the film definitely becomes more entertaining when Hurt's cockney baddie is thrown into the mix. It comes as no surprise I suspect to learn that Sid eventually gets his dirty mitts on the shapely form of Karen Kopkins and Jake Speed must save the day.
This supplies another daft but fun scene where Speed is sent down a secret trapdoor by Sid and slides into a cellar where a pit of lions awaits him. There are some good ideas and situations in the film to the point where you wouldn't mind seeing a new cast have another go at this with a bigger budget. Jake Speed is a character you wouldn't mind seeing rebooted.
Look, Jake Speed is obviously not Raiders of the Lost Ark but I had fun with this. The editing is a little hit or miss and the acting is variable but the presence of John Hurt and Dennis Christopher is a help and there are some good moments all wrapped up in an enjoyably dated eighties atmosphere. The soundtrack is a fascinating relic of the era and if you like obscure 80s action/adventure films then Jake Speed is worth a late night watch.
- Jake

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