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  Jumpin' Jack Flash Why Whoopi?
Year: 1986
Director: Penny Marshall
Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Collins, John Wood, Carol Kane, Annie Potts, Peter Michael Goetz, Roscoe Lee Browne, Sara Botsford, Jeroen Krabbé, Vyto Ruguinis, Jonathan Pryce, Tony Hendra, Jon Lovitz, Phil Hartman, James Belushi, Tracey Ullman, Michael McKean
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Terry Dolittle (Whoopi Goldberg) works at a computer terminal in an international bank, and has a good rapport with her colleagues although her boss, Mr Page (Peter Michael Goetz), dislikes her overall chumminess which he believes affects the dignity of the company when she strikes up cheery conversations with clients over the internet. Wishing to keep her job, Terry decides to follow his not-so-friendly advice and instead of chatting away she begins cutting off the clients after business transactions with a curt "End trans". However, just as she is getting into the way of this far less social approach to her job, she receives a mysterious transmission...

Jumpin' Jack Flash was not a biopic of Mick Jagger, though the song of the same name carries an important meaning in the plot for it's the code which gets Terry into the spy conspiracy and resulting shenanigans which played out as yet another comedy thriller deeply indebted to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Not that this was going to reach those heights, it had what is often described as a "troubled production" seeing a whole bunch of writers attempt to wrangle what was not exactly the most complicated storyline in the world into some kind of shape, and original director Howard Zieff was fired part of the way through, allowing television actress Penny Marshall a go.

This worked out very well for her as it proved to Hollywood that she could direct and allowed her to create a defining megahit of the eighties in the Tom Hanks comedy Big straight after she had completed this, along with being notable as a rare woman to break into the boys' club of Hollywood directing at that point in time. Here her experience on the small screen showed because the humour was like something out a particularly raucous episode of Remington Steele or similar, with only one aspect rendering it more cinematic, and that was letting Whoopi swear her head off. Turning the air blue affected what was actually a fairly innocuous comedy thriller, suggesting the confusion behind the scenes.

It was as if the producers recognised they could not have Whoopi shooting bad guys so gave her another way to be tough, and that was to shoot her mouth off in scenes which threatened to channel her stand-up routines, but never quite did. Also, this being the eighties the obsession with the then-newfangled world of computers was making its voice heard, and so the proto-internet which has Terry conversing chat room style with the mysterious Jack was up to the minute then, but hard to swallow now since whatever appears on her screen also is heard in his voice, which happens to be the tones of Jonathan Pryce, though unless Jack's computer has a microphone exactly how that works is another mystery, unintentional this time.

Anyway, Terry gets embroiled with that conspiracy which significantly fails to be cleared up until the end, because the writers were still trying to work it out straight up to the finish line. It's something about getting British agent Jack out of the Soviet Union, though why he had to drag our heroine into all this is never really explained other than she was being played by a movie star and that's the sort of thing that happens to them. Bulking out the film were a host of familiar faces largely of a very specific acting type, the can do drama but just as at home with comedy kind, so every so often Jon Lovitz or Annie Potts or Tracey Ullman hove into view for a bit of business, giving Whoopi someone to play off in comedic terms. Elsewhere, Stephen Collins, his leading man status slipping by now, did his best Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent impression as a new co-worker, an apt analogy as it turned out, and Carol Kane went into ditzy overdrive as Terry's best friend in the office. With one scene in a phone booth memorable enough for the trailer, this was no better than OK. Music by Thomas Newman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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