Raiders of the Lost Ark was old school in the best possible sense. A send-up of and an affectionate homage to the classic adventure films of the ’40s with just enough 70s swagger and the twinkling starry-eyed charm of Harrison Ford to make it truly something special, but I don’t need to tell you about why Indiana Jones is one of the most well-regarded of all franchise star characters. Jake Speed really wants to be Raiders and to an extent, it is comparable on a superficial level, it too skirts the line between parody and homage and it definitely brings with it a more contextual re-packaging, in this case with the ’80s but its problem is that where Raiders was just good fun, Jake Speed is found to be sorely in possession of an entertainment deficit.
The premise is simple enough, a woman (Karen Kopins) is seeking her kidnapped sister (Becca C.Ashley) and who does she call upon but Jake Speed (Wayne Crawford, also co-writer) and his assistant/writer Desmond (Dennis Christopher). The idea that pulp heroes are real and active in the world and that the people who write about them are accompanying them on adventures is cute but is never played upon in either a grounding in realism or an exaggerated breaking of the fourth wall a lá Roger Rabbit. Crawford, while no Harrison Ford, does at least have an idea how to write to his strengths and his speed is a nice variation on the archetype of the world-weary adventurer, well coupled with Christopher who has a realistic chemistry with him, though that is not sadly something that can be said about him and Kopins. While not a thrilling film, on a technical level, there are some nice touches to be found with the African locales well-photographed and a lively synth-heavy score buoying things well and lending some otherwise less-than-thrilling scenes a surprising tension.
That said, the direction and quite a lot of the background writing is pretty darn atrocious. It’s very different watching an ’80s film today than back when it was released but some of the racial and gender politics at play haven’t aged well. It’s possible to state that perhaps these were ‘ironic’ examples of these sort of things, playing off the roots of the pulp heroes that inspired it but equally, at what point does ironic detachment descend into pure exploitation? The major problem the film has it that a lot of its shortcomings would be excusable if it was just fun but it’s directed in such a bland, excitement-free style that even by the time a hamming it to the nines, oily as a bottle of extra virgin John Hurt appears as the piece’s main villain roughly one hour and twenty minutes in, it’s already too late as I’ve seen too much and too little at the same time to care.
I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, it sounded like just the right sort of cheese that could have been a soon-to-be cult hit but it’s not quite good or bad enough to be that sort of B-Classic that I love. It’s just trying to be that bit better than it is without ever really having one thing to make it stand out enough. How they managed to make a film called Jake Speed and make it this slow is almost an achievement in itself but it’s still not a reason to seek this one out. Maybe try to just find the soundtrack.
Dir: Andrew Lane
Scr: Wayne Crawford, Andrew Lane
Cast: Wayne Crawford, Dennis Christopher, Karen Kopins, John Hurt, Leon Ames, Roy London.
DOP: Brian Loftus
Music: Mark Snow
Prd: Wayne Crawford, Andrew Lane, William Fay
Runtime: 100 minutes
Jake Speed is out on DVD & Download Now