Forces of Geek‘s Man from Hong Kong Big Mike Leeder delves into the vaults to revist a film he considers an overlooked classic, Jake Speed a 1986 action/comedy film directed by Andrew Lane, produced by Lane, Wayne Crawford, and William Fay, written by Lane and Crawford, and starring Crawford in the title role.
Maureen Winston is holidaying in Paris with her friends when she is abducted by two evil-looking men. Her distraught family and Maureen’s father blames her sister Margaret (Karen Kopins) who the one who convinced the family that a European trip would be good for her sister.
The US government is doing everything it can but has no leads, while Grandfather (Leon Ames) has an idea…
However, there is one problem: As with Remo Williams and Mack Bolan, Jake Speed is a character in a series of pulp fiction novels.
But, Jake Speed does exist as Margaret finds out when a note under her door leads her and her best friend Wendy, to a meeting with Jake (Wayne Crawford) and his sidekick, Desmond Floyd (Dennis Christopher).
The novels, as Margaret discovers, are based on Jake & Des’s real life adventures and they work for nothing, seeking action, adventure, excitement and another novel as their reward.
Jake reveals that Maureen was kidnapped by white slavers, and is being held in an African country. In order to rescue her, Jake, Des and Margaret will need to fly to the nation, which happens to be in the middle of a civil war and tearing itself apart.
The adventure takes many twists and turns as they encounter slave traders, helicopter gunships, and much more before we find out that Jake’s archenemy, the evil perverted, murderous Englishman Sid (John Hurt) is running the slave-trading ring.
Margaret is taken prisoner, and now Jake & Des must rescue both Maureen & Margaret, stop Sid and help get the girls home in one piece, while dealing with warring factions, sibling rivalry, pits of lions, more helicopter gunships and much more to finally answer the question that has haunted us all for years , ‘Who is Reno Mellon?’
Jake Speed is one of those movies that I think a lot of people have misjudged for reasons that remind me of the response by so many die hard heroic bloodshed fans of Hong Kong movies to John Woo’s light-hearted 1991 Once A Thief, who didn’t seem to realize its a comedy guys!
It‘s meant to be funny, its making fun of certain cliches of the genre!
And just as with that film, Jake Speed‘s enjoyment is helped if you have a working knowledge of the Pulp novels it talks about, the adventures of Remo Williams: the Destroyer, Mack Bolan, Doc Savage and more.
After a faked execution, the protagonist, ex-cop Remo Williams is recruited by ,a secret U.S. organization, CURE, for missions that must be handled covertly outside the boundaries of other U.S. organizations. Remo receives advanced Sinanju training from Chiun, the reigning Master of Sinanju, who, besides being a hired assassin, acts as a Zen master, nutritionist, linguist, and is a soap opera fan. Remo is also believed to be the incarnation of Shiva the Destroyer whose mission is to destroy evil.
There are over 150 Remo Williams books, as well as various comic books, one movie Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins starring Fred Ward as Remo & Joel Grey as Chuin, which was followed by a barely seen TV pilot which starred Jeffrey Meek as Remo and Roddy McDowell as Chuin.
Mack Bolan: The Executioner
Mack Bolan, alias The Executioner, is a fictional character created by Don Pendleton, who has appeared in over 600 novels with sales of more than 200 million. Bolan’s first appearance was in the novel War Against The Mafia, and Pendeleton wrote more than 37 books about the character before selling the rights to Gold Eagle who have since employed various ghost writers to keep the character alive in various books while Pendleton has remained credited as sole author for these books. Bolan has battled organized crime across North America and terrorism around the world as a tougher American version of James Bond.
Suprisingly The Executioner has yet to make the leap to either the big screen or the silver screen, although Sylvester Stallone was developing an adaptation in the late 1980’s/early 90’s which would have seen Stallone as the title character but also featured American martial arts actress Cynthia Rothrock as his sidekick.
Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze is a fictional character originally published by American Pulp magazines during the 1930’s & 40’s, created by Henry W Ralston & John L Nanovic, with Lester Dent adding additional material and being the series main writer.
Savage is a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher and occasional musician, his father and a team of scientists trained his mind and body to near superhuman abilities from birth, giving him great strength, endurance, photographic memory, mastery of the martial arts and vast knowledge of the sciences. He rights wrongs and punishes evil-doers, frequently assisted by his team of 5 brilliant if eccentric friends and associates.
The heroic adventurer has appeared in countless books and comic books, radio serials and hit the big screen in 1975’s George Pal directed Doc Savage: Man of Bronze starring Ron Ely as the title character.
Jake Speed is great fun, opening in almost Taken territory like a regular thriller with Maureen being chased around Paris before her eventual kidnapping. The transition from straight thriller to action comedy is handled well.
When the characters of Jake Speed, Remo Williams and company are mentioned as possible private contractors who might be better suited to bringing her back, Pop explains, ‘they defeat evil where it exists, pinhead!’ When everyone tells him they’re characters in books, he asks a very interesting question, “how do you think they got to be in books?”
Margaret and her friends eventual meet with Jake and Des in a seedy bar and the perfect introduction to Wayne Crawford’s portrayal of the character.
Jake’s a hero sure, but one with human frailties, arriving at the bar under the weather, and assuming that his potential clients are well aware of just who he is and what he does. The transit of Karen from the familiar locales of North America to Africa reading extracts from various Jake Speed adventures as she travels works well as she’s introduced to a very different world to the one she’s used to, and has to try and get her head around the concept of evil truly existing in the world, and that just as evil exists so too does good, and that believe it or not, Jake is one of the good guys.
Wayne Crawford makes a likeable hero, veering from over confident cocky son of a bitch to self doubting idealistic just one of the guys, who wants to battle the odds just because they’re there and it might seem that much more interesting than taking the easy way out. Crawford has had a varied career but this film gives a glimpse of just what could have been.
Dennis Christopher from Breaking Away and Fade to Black never got the roles he should have after those early films, is in fine form as Des, the happy to let his friend take the spotlight sidekick, who has his friends back in a fight and is just as quick with his guns as he is with his typing skills chronicling their adventures and misadventures.
The lovely Karen Kopins who had previously caught my attention as a young Jim Carrey’s girlfriend in the vampire comedy Once Bitten, is perfect as Margaret. Kopins was a mainstay of 80’s TV with appearances in everything from The A-Team, Dallas, Midnight Caller and the unaired 1988 Charlie’s Angels redux. Kopins begins the film as the somewhat straight laced female, looking at Speed and his activities with disdain until she gets caught up in the adventure herself and begins to believe in herself and a hero named Jake Speed.
John Hurt is in fine form as he slimy and sadistic Sid, who runs the family business along with his more tasteful brother Maurice. Hurt seems to be enjoying himself in the role, and gets some great one liners and moments of sheer hissable villainy.
Jake Speed was intended to be one of the big breakout films for the late lamented New World Pictures who released the film theatrically and on video in the States, but sadly poor promotion and perhaps a lack of star power saw the film under-performing at the box office, although its become a cult favourite for many on VHS, Laserdisc and more recently on DVD.
Mark Snow who later found fame with the X-Files composed the music for the film which was initially released only on LP in 1986, before a 1000 copy resiisue on CD from Buysoundtrax in 2009, while a novelization written by Reno Melon was published in 1986 to tie in with the films release.
And as for Who is Reno Mellon?
Why he’s the pseudonym used for the Jake Speed novels written by Jake and Des, and actually its Jake’s favourite town and Desmond’s favourite breakfast food!
If you’re in the mood for some light hearted fast paced action intelligent action comedy, track down Jake Speed!