52 Pick-Up

May 1, 2012

52 Pick-Up is a complicated and clever story from Elmore Leonard’s novel; the fact that Leonard had a hand in writing the screenplay probably accounts for much of the tasty dialogue and weird characters (it is, to say the least, closer to Leonard’s writing than the mess Burt Reynolds made of Stick).

This one’s about a businessman (Roy Scheider) blackmailed for his extramarital dalliance with a young “dancer” (Kelly Preston) by three very wacko villains (John Glover, Robert Trebor, and Clarence Williams III). Scheider can’t go to the police and come clean because that would mean the end of the political career of his wife (Ann-Margret).

So he has to take things into his own hands, with some satisfying results. It’s a good little thriller—though one might have expected, and occasionally gets, a bit more, considering that it was directed by John Frankenheimer.

Frankenheimer’s career is ripe for resurrection. Some of the films he made during the 1960s—most of all The Manchurian Candidate—are among that decade’s best. But he’s been wandering in the wilderness for years.

52 Pick-Up has just enough quirkiness to suggest that Frankenheimer still has it in him. And some of the early dissolving-marriage scenes between Scheider and Ann-Margret are exceptionally grown-up and tart, to an extent you don’t see much in movies these days. Before it surrenders to conventional plotting, 52 Pick-Up is an exciting film.

First published in the Herald, November 1986

The movie also features Vanity and Doug McClure, which is why you have to love the ’80s. This movie didn’t kick-start the Frankenheimer comeback, but it did indicate the talent was still there, and an upswing was coming.

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Action Jackson

April 30, 2012

Sgt. Jericho “Action” Jackson has a police officer’s badge, a 1966 Chevrolet Impala convertible, and a chest the size of Mount Rushmore (and just as neatly carved).

He uses all of these things in his job, which is running down criminals and basically scaring the bejeebers out of anybody who gets in his way.

He also has a degree from Harvard Law School. (Ahem.) Well, he doesn’t use that as much as his chest, but then he seems to prefer the hands-on approach: the legal niceties can wait.

He’s also the hero of Action Jackson, a new movie that clearly would like to establish this character as a sequel-worthy guy who could stretch well into the Roman numerals. Strange thing is, he might just do it. Surprise: Action Jackson is an unexpectedly fast and funny movie.

Action is played by Carl Weathers, the fellow who kept coinciding with the business end of Sylvester Stallone’s gloves in the Rocky movies. Weathers is, to put it delicately, quite a load, and his comedic talent has been heretofore quiet. But Robert Reneau’s script contains just enough clever bits to punch up the character, and Weathers has a sufficiently light touch with the one-liner.

Action, a Detroit cop, has a problem: a really despicable car manufacturer (played by the Poltergeist dad, Craig T. Nelson, with plenty of sarcastic snarl). It’s not that he makes bad cars; no, this guy is killing the auto-union officials who are getting in his way.

Nelson has a wife (Sharon Stone) who is innocent about almost everything. He also has a mistress (Vanity) who is innocent about almost nothing. They’re both in danger. Action tries to get to the man through these two, but can only manage to save one of them.

The plot exists, of course, as an excuse for a few car chases and some spectacular explosions. But to give the film its due, there’s some efficient exposition and a few good secondary characters who are sketched in colorful strokes, like the gravel-voiced ex-pug who manages a rundown hotel, or the hairdresser named Dee who speaks in heavily alliterative phrases prompted by her own first name: “Always delighted to help a detective, dear.”

Director Craig R. Baxley provides the obligatory action stuff, but he also gives Action Jackson a hefty measure of good B-movie bounce. Any director who cuts away from an immolating bad guy to a close-up of meat burning on the grill at a swanky barbecue is clearly enjoying himself.

First published in the Herald, February 1988

Baxley was an experienced stuntman, and is still going strong as a TV director. Vanity, I am sorry to say, did not become the star that Sharon Stone became, but go figure. The Action Jackson franchise did not ignite with this film, so the character wanders forgotten movie byways with Remo Williams and Jake Speed.