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Frank Sidebottom The Home of the Retrospective


Jake Speed (1986) starring Wayne Crawford Blu Ray (Arrow)

Paperback hero

A young American woman named Maureen Winston (Becca C. Ashley) is kidnapped by white slavers while on holiday in Paris. Back home, while her family members fret over the steps that they should take to rescue her, her grandfather (played by Leon Ames) suggests that they get in contact with Jake Speed, an archetypal hero from a series of paperback adventure novels. Contrary to the skepticism of others, he believes that the stories of Jake and his ilk are real.

That night, Maureen’s sister Margaret (Karen Kopins) receives a letter asking her to meet a contact in a dodgy bar at the city docks. When she arrives with eldest sister Wendy (Donna Pescow) in tow, they meet with a man named Desmond (Dennis Christopher) who introduces his friend (played by Wayne Crawford), claiming him to be none other than… Jake Speed himself! They see the prospect of rescuing Maureen as ideal subject matter for the latter’s next adventure novel. While Wendy thinks he’s a bit of a fruitcake, Margaret decides to trust him.

Margaret, Jake and Desmond head off to a war-torn African country and get into various dangerous scrapes as they hunt down Maureen and her captors.

Watch a trailer:

A fumbled adventure genre parody

Jake Speed was the brainchild of a duo of multitalented independent American filmmakers named Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane. Both share production and writing credits, while the former is the main star and the latter the director. It is a semi-parodic homage to pulp adventure novels such as The Destroyer series (which had its own movie tie-in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins the previous year). It also fits into a wider 1980s cycle of exotic action-adventures which include the Indiana Jones films, Romancing the Stone, Big Trouble in Little China and so on.

As any self-respecting movie buff is undoubtedly aware, most of the aforementioned similar films work so well as escapist entertainment due to a specific range of elements: thrilling escapades, spectacular stunts, sumptuous location shoots, rousing soundtracks and charmingly rugged alpha male heroes. Another important aspect is that of a sense of chemistry between the hero and his obligatory female counterpart which gradually transforms their onscreen relationship from initial friction to inevitable romance.

Unfortunately, Jake Speed largely fumbles the ball as far as these core ingredients are concerned. The synth score by Mark Snow (who later composed that iconic music for The X-Files TV series) is rather out of place. Director Andrew Lane has little sense of pacing, style or tone. The film is visually unappealing thanks to cinematographer Bryan Loftus’s excessively brown colour palette and general tendency to bring out the ugliest aspects of each location.

Wayne Crawford and Karen Kopins in Jake Speed (1986)

While Crawford isn’t bad at playing the stereotypically cocky hero type, his character has been written as far too much of an obnoxious douchebag for us to really root for him. At one point, Jake even schemes to have Margaret sold by the slavers without her consent, just so that he can follow her being taken to their base. Perhaps Crawford and Lane (wearing their writer hats) were trying to show that archetypal heroes aren’t as decent as they are painted up to be. Unfortunately, these mean-spirited aspects don’t fit in with the overall picture of a lightweight piece of escapism. Karen Kopins is also relentlessly grating as a stereotypically soppy, stroppy lady in the mould of Kate Capshaw’s character from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Moreover, the numerous scenes of Crawford and Kopins’ bickering take up far too much screen time and betray a noticeable lack of any real chemistry between the two.

That said, there are a few aspects here which, while not lifting the film to the level of actually being decent, do at least keep it above being completely awful. The idea of a paperback hero existing in real life is a neat touch and, occasionally, results in some quite clever pieces of meta-writing. For instance, Jake has a high-tech jeep which he summons by “believing” it into existence - a sly dig at the inevitable deus ex machina which always saves the hero’s bacon in these stories. John Hurt clearly relished his glorified paid African vacation by going wildly over-the-top as the sleazy, sneering Brit-villain of the piece. Unfortunately, he only pops up about an hour into the film. The action scenes are also entertaining, especially the finale which features a flight of stairs turning into a slide trap - plunging its hapless victims into a pit of hungry lions - plus the aforementioned jeep with its remote-controlled machine guns. Again, however, there aren’t enough of such moments to maintain the excitement level throughout.

Admittedly, there are worse examples of this fondly-remembered 1980s action-adventure trend (e.g. the Chuck Norris turkey Firewalker from the same year). Ultimately, however, it’s less a case of Jake Speed and more one of Jake Plod.

Runtime: 100 mins

Dir: Andrew Lane

Script: Wayne Crawford, Andrew Lane

Starring: Wayne Crawford, Dennis Christopher, Karen Kopins, John Hurt, Leon Ames, Roy London, Donna Pescow, Barry Primus, Monte Markham, Millie Perkins, Becca C. Ashley

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

The film’s ugly visuals don’t can’t entirely be redeemed by the HD format. However, while the image is a little fuzzy at times, the brighter and more colourful shots do look good. Sound-wise, everything is lively and clear.


Paperback Wishes, Cinematic Dreams

An interesting interview with Andrew Lane, who co-wrote, co-produced and directed the film. He mentions that, while his partner Wayne Crawford was always the main contender for the lead role, Bruce Willis was mooted at one point. The bulk of the film was shot in Zimbabwe. However, since it didn’t look as underdeveloped as he envisaged, the street scenes in the film were heavily production-designed to look more primitive. Since it was shot only a few years after Rhodesian War of Independence, there was much in the way of guns and military vehicles which the two producers could use. The soldiers seen in the film were also genuine Zimbabwean troops.

He also reveals that it tanked at the box office because the low-budget distribution company New World Pictures (founded by Roger Corman) ill-advisedly released it during the same opening weekend as Top Gun, despite the fact that they didn’t have the financial muscle to compete with the latter film in terms of marketing.

The Hard Way Reads Better

Producer William Fay discussed his experience producing the film. He recalls that shooting in Zimbabwe was a considerable challenge because the locations had so little infrastructure that they had to bring all of the raw materials across from the U.S. The production team also had to deal with a limited ($5 million) budget, the inexperienced African crew and daily rain showers. The final chase sequence apparently took 3 months to film due to various setbacks, ranging from vehicle breakdowns to the road being too muddy. Fay also describes a pair of incidents involving the prop team getting into trouble with the authorities over their fake guns, and an aircraft engine catching fire during their flight home.


Jake Speed is a film with one or two nice ideas but it comes up short in terms of execution. The disc itself is serviceable but hardly spectacular in terms of its featurettes and audio-visual aspects.

Movie: ☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆

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