Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Unrentables: Jake Speed

With the surname Speed, you kind of have to give your kid a cool name like Jake. Francis Speed? Not so much. Todd Speed? Umm..not quite. But Jake Speed, yeah...Now you've got something. Two years after Robert Zemeckis' Romancing the Stone, some B-movie and direct-to-cable filmmakers thought..."Why not me?" And now, 20 years later, I have to suffer the consequences.

Jake Speed
Director: Andrew Lane
IMDB Rating: 4.6

The name's Jake...Speed Jake. No, wait, I messed that up.

We open in France, where a couple of thugs rush into a slumber party and start beating the hell out of random women. Two girls escape through the streets of Paris to the strains of absolutely abysmal '80s New Wave rock, but one, a blonde in a UCLA sweatshirt, is captured soon after.

It turns out that this last girl, Maureen (Becca Ashley), has a wily old senile grandfather (Leon Ames) with a plan...He wants to phone up pulp novel hero Jake Speed to save his beloved granddaughter. The cantankerous old guy's full of helpful advice like that. "Call a fictional character for help! Nuke the bastards! The trail's gettin' colder 'an a witch's tit!" He's not unlike Donald Rumsfeld, really.

Maureen's siter Margaret (Karen Kopins) bails on a neighbor's party filled with Furries - everyone's dressed as their favorite animal - to sit in her room and cry about her lost sibling. Wah...someone kidnapped by sister in France...Wah...I'm a featured player in a movie called Jake Speed earning second billing after some dude named Wayne Crawford! (This whole subplot feels ripped off from Ghostbusters. Margaret's nerdy neighbor and his lame party is very reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver's nerdy neighbor Rick Moranis and his lame party.)

Margaret is contacted by an assistant to Mr. Speed (Dennis Chrstopher), who turns out to be a real guy. Co-writer/star Crawford kind of looks like the love child of Bob Dylan and Dustin Hoffman. So, you know, the ideal action star. Unfortunately, he's apparently inherited the acting talent from Bob's side of the family. Speed tells Margaret that her sister's been kidnapped by white slave traders in Africa.

"Are you ready for an adventure?" Speed's assistant asks. That's the kind of question you only ask if you're already sure to get a yes. How embarrassing to contact a mysterious woman in a bar, as her if she's ready for an adventure and then hear back that she really just stopped by to meet up with some friends and have a Cosmopolitan, and she's ready to head home now.

Margaret's friend at this point brings up an excellent point. If you were randomly contacted by a stranger who claimed to be a character in a series of popular novels...would you just believe him or her right off the bat?

"Hi, nice to meet you, I'm Jack Ryan. I believe you may have read something about me? I.D.? No, I don't have any I.D. I'm a secret agent. Just call Tom Clancy! He'll tell you..."

But Margaret doesn't want to listen to "reason." She's not interested in whether the man she met is "really Jake Speed" or "some insane sex offender who is flying her to Africa so that he can enslave her nude in a bamboo cage to be jabbed and prodded repeatedly with crudely-sharpened spears until such time as she is fed to an oversized ape in order to appease the Monkey God." Come on! It's time for an adventure!

Suddenly, we're in Africa, which in the world of the movie consists entirely of small dusty villages in which small children try to sell you watermelons. And of course, the whole place is poised on the brink of revolution!

Prissy Margaret wants to get started looking for her sister, but of course that silly rapscallion Jake just wants to play poker with the natives and dick around. If he didn't want to be bothered finding her sister, why fly her to Africa in the first place? She was all set to believe he was fictional. Speaking of fictional characters, the movie does this really annoying thing where it keeps referencing other mythical pulp adventure heroes. There's throwaway allusions to Remo Williams, Doc Savage, Allan Quartermain...Who does Lane think he is? Alan Moore? It's like he wants desperately to be clever but just can't manage to actually get there.

From here on out, the thing starts playing like a dinner theater production of Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, they're going with the Kate Capshaw-inspired love interest character and the part of the hero is being played by some hapless, squinty bozo. Oh, and the kitchen just ran out of Salisbury Steak.

"Guess I better shower first, huh?" she pouts, arguing that Jake wants to sleep with her more than he wants to find her sister. "Good idea," he responds. "Let's shower together!" This is what passes for banter in Jake Speed's world. The novels about him must have been written by Bill O'Reilly.

During a firefight in the street, Jake smashes his jeep into a shop window. The resulting stunt man shot is perhaps the most hilarious thing I have seen in an Unrentable yet. The guy looks nothing like Wayne Crawford. He kind of looks like Ed Asner. I'm not sure an infant would be fooled by this effect. The other characters in the film seem confused when it happens.

Leaving the car accident, Jake and his love interest head over the hottest club in town. As if that opening New Wave song weren't bad enough, at about the halfway point, musicians at the club are recreating that song "Maniac" with authetnic native African instruments. Getting into a brawl shortly thereafter, Jake becomes quite possibly the first hero in a PG film ever to say the line "I'll tear off your head and shit in the hole." He then threatens to sell Margaret into sexual slavery, until she gets out of it by claiming to have a variety of STD's. Hilarious.

Barely escaping with their lives following a near-fatal breakaway glass incident, Jake and Margaret take off running through a variety of cheap sets. People keep running up to them and trying to shoot or explode them, but I couldn't figure out why. They haven't done anything. They're not any closer to finding Maureen siter. It still hasn't even been explained how Jake knows Maureen was taken by white slave traders from Africa in the first place. All we saw was that she was kidnapped in Paris. Wouldn't this occur to Margaret to ask at some point? When they weren't being randomly shot at, perhaps?

At about the hour mark, I've begun to realize why Jake Speed feels so boring and pointless. It has no story or logical progression. We just follow around Jake, who always seems like he knows what he's doing, as he zips around Africa having random side adventures. There are no clues, there is no bad guy, nothing of note happens. Jake just wanders into a barn or a hotel or a village somewhere, Margaret starts to have a panic attack, then black guys with guns show up and a lot of squibs go off. Then the whole thing repeats itself.

Jake and his associate keep implying that their present adventure will soon after become its own book. Sort of a Jake Speed novelization-within-the-movie meta kind of thing. I can't imagine what reading a book with this story would be like.

"Hey, let's wander around this inexpensive set for a little while, Margaret."

"Okay, Jake. I hope no squibs go off while we're down there."

Margaret and Jake walked slowly down the alley. Then a fat guy ran after them with a shotgun. He seemed to aim and fire the gun properly, but Margaret and Jake were magically unharmed. Then they kept running, then it was poorly shot and dark for a second so it was unclear what was happening, then there were some explosions. Jake seemed vaguely uninterested.

So, Margaret ditches Jake and his life partner in the desert and hauls ass to the British Consulate, hoping to get the hell out of Dodge before the peculiar sporadic revolution really gets going in earnest. There, she finds out that "Jake" and "Desmond" are really notorious con artists. I know...It's shocking that they didn't turn out to be those made up guys. Shocking.

"I can't believe it," Margaret says. "They were really nice." Yeah, all they did was bring you to Africa under false pretenses and then continually place you in the immediate path of exploding tanks. She's a pretty easy sell on what constitutes "being nice." I bet she voted for Bush both times.

For God knows what reason, Margaret decides to go back to Jake and the Not Terribly Fat Man, somehow finding their secret hideout in the desert despite only having been there once before and afterwards getting lost in the desert. (Peculiar, as well, that their hideout is made entirely from lumber, despite the fact that it's in the middle of the goddamn desert and there's no trees around. Did they ship in all the materials from Canada or something?

Unfortunately, the evil British consulate guys tail Margaret and thus find their way to the ever-elusive Jake Speed. Curses! His brilliant plan to wander around aimlessly and not find anoyne's sister has been foiled! Once again! He's so upset, he even calls one of the goons "ass ears!" Oooh, take that, evildoer! You'll rue the day you tangled with the maniacal wit of one Mr. Jacob Speedowitz! (I'm just assuming that's the real name. It could also be Speedberg or Spederman.)

Finally, FINALLY, with 15 minutes in the film remaining, John Hurt shows up as the actual bad guy, the slave trading bastard Sid. He's selling off the lovely and angelic Maureen to two creepy Arab guys in fezes. (How else would you know they're dirty Arabs?)

Hurt's trying his best, but most of the lines he's been given don't make any sense at all.

"What have you done with my sister," Margaret sneers.
"Relax, toots," Sid replies. "We should be feeling so good!"
"You scum-sucking pig!" Margaret responds.
"How old are you pussycat," Sid retorts (?)

What a comeback. Sid, you are the king.

I will say this...Hurt's got one sinister-looking creepy grin going. It makes several featured appearances during his brief scenes.

So he ties up Jake and Margaret, knotting the rope conveniently in the crotch so we can get a cheap blowjob joke. Whooo-eee. With that bit of business on top of some bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions and shenanigans concerning Sid's wacky gay assistant (Maurice!)who's always trying to clean the rug...Let me just say, the last 10 minutes of this bad boy is a regular cavalcade of comic pranksterism. Like Porky's 2, just not quite as arty.

Hurt closes things out with the film's best monologue. Okay, the film's only monologue. "I'm a bad guy, Jake. I do anything I want. I lie. I cheat. I steal. I kill." So, I guess there are two characters in the film based on Rumsfeld. Maybe the original ending was that John Hurt and the Grandfather are the same person, and they just reshot the scene because it was too confusing.


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