Action Jackson (1988)

“Action Jackson” is an action movie starring Carl Weathers. Former pro football player-turned actor Weathers (he earned a degree in theater arts from San Diego State U. before segueing into a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders and a Canadian League team after that) was a veteran of various films by the 1980s: most famously as Rocky Balboa’s adversary-turned-ally Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” series of films. He was also a co-lead in the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film “Predator”, leading into Weathers’ first solo headlining feature.

Weathers plays Jericho “Action” Jackson- Detroit native, Harvard Law graduate and veteran police officer. He currently holds the rank of sergeant (demoted in the aftermath of a high-profile bust of the son of a prominent businessman.) Jackson gets involved in a murder case involving several labor union executives, and the investigation reveals a conspiracy leading to prominent auto manufacturing mogul Peter Dellaplane (Craig T. Nelson, imagined as a murderous John DeLorean).

Weathers and Nelson make the most of the script, which puts an emphasis on quippy lines and larger-than-life characters. Beat cops, bodyguards, dive hotel managers and hairdressers all get to spout some unusually clever lines.

Weathers is a refreshing change of pace from some of his action-movie peers, here. Decked out with a form-fitting wardrobe (no doubt a pleasure for female moviegoers), he seems more relaxed, charismatic and believable than the various tough guys Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Norris tended to play. Nelson is sufficiently oily as the corrupt auto magnate, though it’s kind of a thankless role.

Pop singer Vanity, an ex-Prince protégé’, plays the main love interest Sydney. Here she’s a nightclub singer and mistress of Dellaplane, who is among the last secret-keepers of the villain, which naturally makes her a marked woman once Jackson’s investigation begins to heat up.

Producer Joel Silver (“Predator”, “Die Hard”, “Lethal Weapon”) was behind this, and his pedigree shows in this feature. Silver doesn’t skimp on the action set pieces, as “Action” features such sequences as assassins crashing through skyscraper windows, yachts rigged with dynamite, taxicabs diving through storefronts, and even a sports car driving to the top floor of a mansion! All in all, “Action Jackson” delivers as an action thriller of the 1980s- light on plot, but heavy on fights, pretty women and explosions. Definitely worth renting/streaming.

Further analysis: Surprisingly, no sequel was ever made. In retrospect, the film largely ignores the then-current state of affairs in Detroit– which by the 1980s was largely abandoned by the auto industry– as well as most of its white population having left for the suburbs and elsewhere. The film was mostly savaged by critics, but managed to pull in a modest profit at the domestic box-office as well as making impact on international screens. By the mid-80s, the African American action movie stars of the 1970s (Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, et al) fell into near-obscurity, shunt into infrequent supporting roles or straight to video features. Comic actor Eddie Murphy became the “exception that proves the rule”, as his commercial success didn’t do much of anything to open the floodgates for a new wave of black leading actors. Weathers’ Jackson should have joined Axel Foley, John McClane, John Rambo, etc. in the action hero sequel fraternity. Unfortunately, a likely combination of studio skepticism and mainstream-culture reluctance put a damper on the continuation of Jericho’s adventures.