Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It's a gas gas gas

TCM continues its series on "Trailblazing Women" directors by looking at some women who started off doing other things before becoming directors. The first of them is Penny Marshall at 8:00 PM with A League of Their Own, about the women's professional baseball league that sprang up during World War II. However, I'd like to blog today about the first feature film she directed, Jumpin' Jack Flash.

Whoopi Goldberg plays Terry Doolittle, who works at one of the big international banks in New York City. Her job is to man one of the computers in the foreign exchange bureau and facilitate the large interbank transfers. It's a boring job, at least the work part of it, although there is a crew of wacky supporting characters as her co-workers. Her boss complains that she spends too much time engaging in idle chit-chat with the people on the other side of the computer hookups the banks use to transfer the money.

Of course, all of that is foreshadowing. One day at the end of her shift, she's contacted by a man who calls himself "Jumpin' Jack Flash" after the Rolling Stones song. But Jack has nothing to do with transferring money. Instead, he says that he's in grave danger and can't talk to Terry on the international banking transponder, but instead needs a secure channel. If Terry can figure out the password, then the two can talk on that channel. Eventually she does figure it out, and on the secure channel Jack tells her that he is in fact a spy trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and needs her help to get a contact to get out of the Communist bloc safely. If she goes to the British Consulate and gives a certain person a code message, that man will get in touch with Jack.

So a bewildered Terry goes to the consulate, and gives the man, Jeremy Talbott (John Wood) the message. Talbott, unsurprisingly, acts as though Terry is nuts, and claims not to know anything about Terry's message or the "Section C" that the consulate supposedly has. So Terry goes back to the bank, waits for Jack to show up, tells him all this, and finds that he wants her to go to his New York apartment to get a clue that will help her find some New York-based contacts. As if going to the consulate wasn't dangerous enough. By now, we've had enough foreshadowing to be told that Terry is already being watched. But by whom?

Terry eventually gets into a more and more manic series of misadventures as she tries to get Jack to safety while staying one step ahead of both whoever it is who is chasing her as well as the New York cops, who unsurprisingly want her because by this point she's wound up in the Hudson River claiming there's a dead body there (there is), had her apartment ransacked, and various other fun things.

Jumpin' Jack Flash is a lot of fun, down entirely to the performance of Whoopi Goldberg, who is the star to the point that everything in the movie revolves around her. That having been said, there are certainly some weak points where Penny Marshall wouldn't or couldn't rein Goldberg in. One scene involves Terry at the consulate a second time trying to get at the classified computers to get the contacts; another involves her being drugged with truth serum and acting entirely too manic. She also swears quite a bit, which may be a problem for some people. The supporting cast is good even if they're totally secondary to Whoopi. There are quite a few names who would go on to bigger things, if not quite A-list. I mentioned the foreshadowing a couple of times above; there are some things Terry is able to do to get out of trouble that are hinted at well ahead of time if you know what to look for. But I won't spoil them. One other interesting thing about the movie is the 1980s technology. Boy are those computers clunky!

If you're looking for a classic, Jumpin' Jack Flash isn't it. But if you're just looking to be entertained, Jumpin' Jack Flash will do that in spades.

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