The Best Movie You Never Saw: Action Jackson

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at ACTION JACKSON!

THE STORY: Jericho "Action" Jackson (Carl Weathers) is the toughest cop…ever. He’s so tough that when his chief gave him shit for ripping a perp’s arm off, he shrugged it off saying “relax, he had a spare.” But Jackson’s arch-nemesis, auto magnate Peter Dellaphane (Craig T. Nelson) is up to some bad business, knocking off union delegates one by one, while keeping his mistress (Vanity) hooked on smack, and his innocent wife (Sharon Stone) in the dark. But after getting Jackson demoted to Sergeant, he’s about to find out the hard way that they don’t call him “action” for nothing. ACTION JACKSON!!!

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Sharon Stone & Vanity. Music by Herbie Hancock & Michael Kamen. Directed by Craig R. Baxley.

action jackson carl weathers craig t nelson

THE HISTORY: Back in the mid-eighties, Carl Weathers was riding high off the success of the ROCKY series, specifically III & IV, where Apollo became Rocky’s BFF. This endeared him to children all over the world, who cried when stupid Drago killed him in ROCKY IV (I was one of them). While his first star vehicle, a TV show called “Fortune Dane”, wound up cancelled after six episodes, Weathers got a juicy role in PREDATOR, where he hooked up with mega-producer Joel Silver, who was looking to churn out a couple of franchise-starters(which he did with LETHAL WEAPON and DIE HARD). The idea was to launch Weathers as an Arnold Schwarzenegger-style ultra-macho, superhero type – thus ACTION JACKSON was born!

A creation that came about when I was doing Predator and talking to Joel Silver, who loved blaxploitation movies. Joel said, “Well, you know, why don’t you put something together?” So during that time of shooting down in Puerto Vallarta, I created this story and came up with this guy — or at least this title —Action Jackson. And Joel found a writer [who] wrote the screenplay, and that was it. We got it made. –Carl Weathers – AV Club Random Roles interview

action jackson carl weathers

Predictably, critics were a bit hard on the flick, but it made decent coin. On an $8 million budget, it grossed over $20 million, more than Steven Seagal’s debut from the same year, ABOVE THE LAW. Considering it made twice what it did in theaters on VHS, ACTION JACKSON could have easily gotten a sequel, where it not for the fact that the movie was produced by Lorimar, a company that folded shortly after it got released, leaving the rights in limbo. Given the modest return, Silver, who was flush with success after DIE HARD, probably had bigger fish to fry, and Weathers never quite made it to the next level as an action star – but he should have!

action jackson carl weathers

WHY IT'S GREAT: Joel Silver’s one of the few producers that I wouldn’t hesitate to say is actually the auteur of many of his films. They have a lot in common, specifically crazy over-the-top action, ultra-profane (but hilarious) dialogue – often supplied by Shane Black – and, usually, scores by Michael Kamen. ACTION JACKSON is one of his more modest outings, along the lines of ROAD HOUSE or RICOCHET, but the movie is a Joel Silver production through-and-through.

He actually found a great, larger-than-life, hero in Carl Weathers, and it’s a shame this turned out to be a one-off. ACTION JACKSON is a memorable big-screen cop. When the movie starts, he’s already so infamous that just to scare a young criminal straight, the cops threaten to hand him over to Jackson, who they basically say is the illegitimate offspring of Bigfoot. Like Schwarzenegger, Weathers seemed quick-witted as opposed to the more mono-syllabic heroes that followed (Seagal, Van Damme, Lundgren), so they gave Jackson a law degree and, early on, let him wear a tux, before slipping into classic eighties action hero mode – meaning a Henley, and then oiled-up and shirtless.

action jackson craig t nelson sharon stone carl weathers

Oh, a lot of people are fans of “Action Jackson.” I get asked all the time, “Are you ever going to do a sequel?” (Laughs) I still maintain today that it could’ve been a better movie had we taken a little bit longer to develop the screenplay, but a lot of people liked it. -  Carl Weathers Interview

Weathers is a lot of fun to watch, and even some of the more groan-worthy lines (like, when wielding a flame thrower, he asks a baddie “how do you like your ribs?”) go over. The action, while not as expensive as LETHAL WEAPON, is tight, with a good fight opposite the late Sonny Landham early on, a cool car chase (“why do they call you action?”) and so on. The ladies are also absolutely smoking, with a young Sharon Stone and Prince protégé, the late Vanity, as his love interests.

action jackson carl weathers sonny landham

BEST SCENE: One area ACTION JACKSON comes up a little short is in the villain department, with Craig T. Nelson a pretty stock eighties yuppie villain. Perhaps sensing this, they make him into something of a kung-fu badass, but the doubling is unintentionally hilarious, as is the notion that he could possibly be a threat to Weathers, who looks forged of iron. That said their final fight, as cheesy as it is, is pretty memorable. Spoilers ahead but, c’mon, it’s an eighties action movie, how do you think it’s gonna end?

SEE IT: ACTION JACKSON’s been treated better on home video than many other titles, thanks to having a half-decent distributor (Warner Bros) who put out a nice Blu-ray (after years of nothing but a full-frame DVD), along with a good digital HD copy available pretty much everywhere.

action jackson vanity carl weathers

PARTING SHOT: ACTION JACKSON is high cinematic cheese, but it’s great for what it is, and a damn good time. It’s a minor eighties action classic that never got the full-on cult status it probably deserved (like ROAD HOUSE), and it’s ripe for discovery if you’re into badass action flicks of the era.

action jackson carl weathers poster
Source: JoBlo.com



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