Saturday 27 April 2013

Obscurity Files - Jake Speed

Never heard of the literary hero Jake Speed? Let me tell you why...

When a teenage girl is kidnapped in Paris and sold into the white slave trade in Africa, guilty big sister Margaret seeks help wherever she can get it. What she didn't expect was to be approached by Jake Speed, the assumed-to-be-fictional hero of her Grandpa's favourite adventure novels, eager to lend a hand. Travelling to Africa with the help of Speed's aide Des, the animosity between the two gives way as their journey continues.

We first meet Jake walking out of the shadows to reveal what must be the most non-descript action hero I've ever seen. Never mind Harrison Ford dressing down by donning glasses and a tweed jacket to be term time Dr. Jones, this is one of the most normal looking men you will ever see. The casting of such an odd looking man can be explained by this being a self penned vehicle for Wayne Crawford. Who, you ask? Exactly.

A part time actor and screenwriter with credits such as Valley Girl to his name, Jake Speed is Crawford's only role of note, although he has continued to write, act, produce and direct in the 25 years since. Apparently when Sylvester Stallone was first shopping around his script for Rocky, he turned down some big offers because they wanted to cast somebody else in the title role, standing his ground until someone relented and gave him his way. I don't know if Wayne Crawford was offered any similar deals to relinquish the star role (I doubt it), but if he was he should have taken the money and run.

That's not to say that Jake Speed is an altogether bad film; at certain points it manage to approach serviceable, but there's nothing special about it, and a film about a renegade action hero lives and dies on the charisma of its leading man, and despite his attempts at wise cracking throughout the film, Wayne Crawford does not make a good leading man.

It would be too easy to say that the character is based on Indiana Jones what with the poster's sub-par Jonesian typeface, but he shares more in common with Michael Douglas's Jack T. Colton from Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile, himself a Jones clone elevated by the charm of Douglas. Both characters conform to an idealistic rugged, bad boy template, although Speed is much less successful at this. Both also have roots in fiction within their own films, but whereas Romancing the Stone comes across as fortuitously romantic, Speed's personal plot twist is just a bit stupid.

You see, within the film, all of the novels based on Speed's adventures have been written under a pseudonym by his biographer/best friend Des (Dennis Christopher), very much the Danny DeVito tagalong of the group. This leads to them taking dangerous steps throughout the film, including bringing Margaret along to Africa to add another level of romance to their next book. After an attempt to sell Margaret to the same slave owners goes wrong, she asks "what if you sold me to the wrong guys?", only to get "that would make a piss poor story, wouldn't it?" in reply. With his necessity to experience a scenario before writing it down, it's of little irony that the star/co-writer of the film doesn't understand the principles of fiction.

The basic premise for Jake Speed is sound, it just happens to be nearly identical to Romancing the Stone, released two years earlier, making it seem like a simple knock off, despite its metatextual twist. If there's one plus point to the film, it's the casting of the ever reliable John Hurt as Speed's nemesis, Sid. He delights in being an utter shit during his too short time on screen, delivering lines like "I'm the bad guy Jake, I do whatever I want" with enough gusto to make you want him to win.

A defining statement that it takes more than a khaki waistcoat and a five o'clock shadow to be an action hero, perhaps it's for the best that Jake Speed will only remain on the pages of the novels that only exist in this film.

Save from obscurity? No.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure what's the more prudent question:

    How did John Hurt end up in this movie??


    Why did John Hurt end up in this movie??