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."
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.
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
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.
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
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.