Jericho Jackson (Carl Weathers) is the tough Detroit cop who everyone calls “Action” because I guess Jericho was just too normal a name. He’s a legend in the department and on the streets of the Motor City. “Some people say his mother was molested by Bigfoot,” one patrolman says but the truth is simpler. Jackson was a high school football star before he went to Harvard Law and got his degree. He could have been an attorney but he decided to become a cop instead.
Unfortunately, Action Jackson is currently Desk Duty Jackson. When he arrested Sean Dellaplane, the pervert son of auto manufacturer Peter Dellaplane (Craig T. Nelson), Jackson “nearly ripped off the boy’s arm.” (“He had a spare!” Jackson snarls.) Everyone says that, since his son’s arrest and his marriage to the beautiful Patrice (Sharon Stone), Peter Dellaplane has turned over a new leaf and is now an honest businessman. Action Jackson doesn’t buy it. In fact, he suspects that Dellaplane is responsible for the brutal murder of a union rep.
Though he may be married, Dellaplane still has a mistress. Sydney Ash (Vanity) is a heroin-addicted singer. After Dellaplane watches her sing a song, Sydney tells him, “I was expecting a standing ovation.” “You’re getting one,” Dellaplane replies. Jackson knows the best way to get to Dellaplane is to get his hands on Sydney. He better hurry because Action Jackson has been framed for a murder that he didn’t commit and now he’s got every cop and criminal in Detroit after him.
A lot of people will tell you that Action Jackson is a bad movie but I like it. It’s a tribute to the classic blaxploitation films of the 70s and though the violence may be excessive, it’s all played tongue-in-cheek. Carl Weathers first suggested the movie to Joel Silver while the two of them were filming Predator and, from the start, Action Jackson is proud to be a B-movie. There’s no subtext or deeper meaning involved, beyond Action Jackson cleaning up the streets. Taking it seriously would be a crime. This is probably the only film where you will ever be able to see Apollo Creed and the dad from Poltergeist face off in hand-to-hand combat. Of course, whenever Craig T. Nelson throws a punch or a kick, the scene cuts away to disguise the fact that a stuntman is doing most of the work but even that becomes fun to watch for. Some B-movie have a visible boom mic. Action Jackson has a stuntman disguised to look like Craig T. Nelson from behind.
If I do have a complaint, it’s that the script is heavy on the one-liners, which makes sense as this film was made shortly after Schwarzenegger revolutionized action film dialogue with “I’ll be back.” Unfortunately, Weathers wasn’t as good at handling one-liners as Arnie and Bruce Willis were. As anyone who has seen the first four Rockys can tell you, Carl Weathers was an actor who could create art from a monologue of non-stop trash talk. As I watched the film, I kept wishing that Action Jackson would do some Apollo Creed-level trash-talking whenever he was fighting the bad guys. Maybe if he had, there would have been an Action Jackson 2.