Off the Beaten Path – Action Jackson

The Film : Action Jackson
Notable Cast Members: Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Sharon Stone, Vanity, Chino “Fats” Williams

DVD and VHS available on Amazon.com starting at about $0.35

Film Synopsis :

It has been known for years that ninjas are really awesome, and by really awesome, I mean totally sweet. Despite this easily understood maxim, strikingly few movies feature ninjas.

For shame.

You can easily spend an hour and a half eagerly anticipating the appearance of ninjas in typical “Hollywood” fare. Very often these 90 minutes will go wasted, mostly ninja-free. Action Jackson bucks this trend. It introduces a whole team of ninjas at the 90 second mark, even though the opening scene takes place in modern times, in an office building, in Detroit, while a guy is discussing the finer points of political figures in the automotive industry with his secretary (who sort of looks like Annie Camden). The movie just decides, seemingly out of the blue, to send in ninjas to ruin their shit, dispatching the secretary to heaven (possibly a 7th) and tossing her boss out of window to the cold unforgiving street. Thankfully the cold part didn’t bother him, seeing as the fella was on fire at the time.

Why would ninjas do such a thing? Well it turns out that these are the personal security ninjas of one iniquitous auto-maker Peter Dellaplane (Craig T. Nelson). Just how peccant is Coach in this film? Joe Bob Briggs sums it up best:

Nelson is not only an evil industrialist, but a pusher, a murderer, a karate expert who likes to beat up Chinese guys for the fun of it, the father of a psychotic mass murdered, a serial wife-killer, and the kind of guy who would promise a young impressionable girl a Motown contract and then not deliver.

Eeeevill.

Who could possibly be a match for such a monster and his team of personal security ninjas? None other than high school track star and Detroit police Sergeant with a Harvard law degree, our man Jericho “Action” Jackson.

Now you might be saying to yourself: Who is Ackson Jackson?


Officer Lack
Action, Albert. Action Jackson.

Officer Kornblau
Yeah, some say he didn’t even have a mother. That some researchers at NASA created him to be the first man to walk on the moon without a space suit.

Officer Lack
Mm-hmm.

Officer Kornblau
Others say his mother was molested by Bigfoot and, uh, Jackson is their mutant offspring.

Officer Lack
They bring in Jackson when they want to re-educate some young ne’er-do-well such as yourself, Albert.

Officer Kornblau
Yeah, I remember one kid got re-educated so bad, his testicles climbed back up into his belly. Wouldn’t come out.

Officer Lack
They called it a medical miracle.

Officer Kornblau
Yeah. Another kid, handcuffed to a chair; gnawed his own hand off like a trapped skunk, or wolverine, or somethin’.

(I should point out here that Officer Kornblau is played by the guy that played Biff in the Back to the Future movies. )

You see, years ago it was Action Jackson who locked up Dellaplane’s psycho-killer son, costing Jackson his marriage, his gun privileges, and causing him to be busted down from Lieutenant to Sargent. Why? Because Jackson kinda sorta ripped the junior Dellaplane’s arm off. (Says Jackson, “He had a spare.”) These two Motown titans hold an uneasy peace for 2 years: a peace that is torn asunder when Coach’s evil UPS man kills Jackson’s high school running buddy.

At any rate, the senior Dellaplane is killing folks for political power, eventually offing his wife (Sharon Stone) as the two are rounding second. He plants her body in Jackson’s apartment, forcing Jackson to run from the law. Jackson teams up with Dellaplane’s torch singing, heroin junkie mistress (Vanity). Many asses are kicked, with some names taken.

The Story Behind It :

Action Jackson is an odd little movie. Released in 1988, It was written by Robert Reneau, who is probably best known as a writer on Demolition Man. The film was directed by Craig R. Baxley, who previous to this film was best known as Warren Beatty’s stunt double in a couple of pictures. Playing the title character is man-mountain Carl Weathers, who is recognizable to most people as Rocky‘s best friend/ worst enemy, Apollo Creed.

Now, there are a couple of things about Action Jackson that make it one of the greatest b-movies out there.

1. As strange as it sounds, the world of Action Jackson makes sense in context. In other action movies, characters are genuinely surprised when a bunch of crazy, reality-defying stuff happens. Other flicks spend a good chunk of time trying to convince viewers that the world contained within the movie is not unlike the world of the audience. Then, when the audience is adequately convinced, the average action movie has people outrunning explosions, or effortlessly diving through plate glass.

Action Jackson offers no such illusions. The world of AJ is crazy, and has always been crazy, taking into account backstory details like Dellaplane’s psychotic son’s arm getting pulled off by our hero. The people in the film are generally unimpressed by exploding cars, personal security ninjas, evil UPS guys, and property damage. The film totally embraces the fact that it is an unrealistic B-movie, and uses that for a bunch of wild stunts, and over-the-top scenarios. When Action Jackson chases a cab on foot, he catches it. When Action Jackson wants to get to the villain’s bedroom, he drives that villain’s car into that villain’s house, up that villain’s staircase and down that villain’s hall. People get stabbed with harpoons! A ninja gets barbecued and Jackson says, “How do you like your ribs?”

2. Action Jackson is a Shaft style blaxploitation flick. Not because our hero is an authority defying, African American badass. Rather, because each flick doesn’t rely on the innate “black-ness” of their respective title characters. It isn’t really important that Action Jackson is black. Which leads us to number 3.

3. Many of the black characters in Action Jackson are straight-laced, dignified, hard-working people. Not all mind you, but many. Typically black characters in movies are clownish stereotypes, or vacant criminals. The white folk in Action Jackson are more likely to be the clowns and villains here. It is a nice change of pace.

4. After Die Hard, action movie villains tended to be slightly effeminate, vaguely European types (read as: homosexuals). Action Jackson predates Die Hard, and thus has a good old fashioned, unquestionably heterosexual rich, old, power-hungry, American white guy as its villain. Even most of his henchman are doughy looking white guys.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not some sort of anti-corporation hippie dipshit. I’m just saying, as things progressed, action movies were less and less willing to admit that sometimes people with a lot of wealth and power are motherf*ckers.

(An aside: I mention Die Hard because much of its cast is shared with Action Jackson. Die Harders in AJ include the guy that played Argyle, the dude that played Agent Johnson, that front desk terrorist fella that kinda looks like Huey Lewis, and long-haired Asian villain specialist, cult hero Al Leong.)

5. Shit, it has to be stressed again, how this flick breaks the goofy and gratuitous meters. Vanity injects herself with copious amounts of drugs, she wear one see-through dress and pops out of another one, Sharon Stone takes a shower in the movie for no good reason, 3 cars explode, a yacht explodes, testicles are kept in mason jars, there is a giant super-powered Nation of Islam member, a ludicrously alliterative hair stylist, etc.

I think my favorite part of the whole thing is how Craig T. Nelson’s “hot, hotter, hottest” luxury sports car is just a Fiero with some shit glued on to make it look like a Ferrari.

In short, Movie Editor Mikey would be a FOOL not to include Action Jackson in his “50 club.”