My mother likes to call the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies “a poor man’s Indiana Jones.” What she means is that both series star attractive, charismatic male leads who embark on thrilling adventures dealing with archeology and ancient myths, but that the Mummy series doesn’t have quite the high quality as the Indiana Jones films. Like a Big Mac, The Mummy might satisfy a certain type of hunger, but they’ll never be as satisfying as a good steak.
Well, if The Mummy is a poor man’s Indiana Jones, then Jake Speed is a poor man’s Mummy. It is the Taco Bell of this metaphor. Made in 1986, Jake Speed was clearly trying to cash in on the popularity of the Indiana Jones films. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were inspired by the film serials of the 1940s and ‘50s. Those serials drew heavily from the pulp magazines and cheap paperback books of the 1920s and ‘30s. Jake Speed pretends that the old pulp heroes are real and that the books were based upon real adventures.
A young woman named Maureen (Becca C. Ashley) is abducted while on holiday in Paris. The police are useless and the family is desperate. The grandfather (Leon Ames) suggests they call one of the heroes he likes reading about in his pulp paperbacks. Everybody scoffs at the idea, but when Margaret (Karen Kopins), Maureen’s sister, receives a note to meet somebody at a local bar, she goes. There, she meets Desmond (Dennis Christopher), who says he’s an associate of Jake Speed (Wayne Crawford) and together they can find Maureen. A moment later, Jake shows up disheveled and annoyed.
He says he has a plan to get Maureen back, but when that plan involves selling Margaret to the same white slavers her sister was sold to (he thinks, though he actually tries to sell her to two different slavers), Margaret balks. Instead, they fly to some unnamed African country in hopes of finding her. A civil war makes that possibility difficult, but you know in this type of movie they will eventually find her. Where they find her is in the hands of Sid (John Hurt), a man who sells women to the highest bidder. He lives in a lair full of trap doors, sliding staircases, and lion’s dens. Hurt plays him with gusto and one almost wishes he had a mustache to twirl.
There is nothing surprising about Jake Speed. It follows a script we’ve seen countless other times. It is a satire of those old pulp fiction stories and a loving recreation of them. As such, it is both somewhat thrilling and a bit goofy. Jake Speed the character is rugged and tough, with a clean-cut morality, but also somewhat wooden. Characters in pulp stories tended to be pretty two dimensional and so Jake is here. Whether that is an intentional homage to the stories or just more bad writing is unclear.
It is a movie I would have loved as a young boy and yet one I’m not sure I’ll let my daughter watch. This one is rated PG and it certainly doesn’t deserve an R. The language is not particularly extreme, the sex relegated to a few minor innuendos, and the violence consists of lots of loud gun play, but very little on screen death (with one gruesome exception where a man’s mutilated corpse is seen in a lion’s den). But the plot does revolve around women being sold into sex slavery with some pretty nasty men giving them some pretty nasty looks. Such is the weirdness of movies made in the 1980s before the PG-13 rating was invented.
There is lots of action full of gun play and explosions. The banter is silly and occasionally funny. The women are attractive and take it all in stride. What I’m saying is it is a silly, fun film, made for young teens who have already seen all the Indiana Jones and Mummy films, but are still looking for some goofball adventure films to take them through those long days without school.
Arrow Video has given Jake Speed a new 2K restoration from the original 35MM interpolative. Extras include a new interview with director Andrew Lane, and one with producer William Fray. Also included is the usual booklet with an essay on the film.
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