Release Date(s)1986 (December 3, 2019)
Studio(s)New World Pictures/Force Ten Productions/Balcor Film Investors (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D+
Coming and going in 1986 with little to no fanfare, Jake Speed borrows much from films that were popular at the time like Romancing the Stone, but also makes an attempt at a satirical take on the pulp genre as a whole. When Margaret’s (Karen Hopkins) sister goes missing after being kidnapped by white slavers, she’s confronted with the help of Jake Speed (Wayne Crawford), who seems to have walked straight out of the paperback novels her grandfather reads. Aided by his loyal assistant Desmond (Dennis Christopher), she goes with them to Africa to find her, never quite sure if Jake is the real deal or not. Along their route they run into gun ships, local wildlife, armed men, and the notorious Sid (John Hurt), a former enemy of Jake’s.
On the page, Jake Speed looks promising. It’s an interesting take on a genre known for its outrageously unrealistic and fantastical elements. Unfortunately, the lead actor is wholly understated and the film is tone deaf. That’s not to say that it’s without its charms. There are plenty of fun action elements, as well as an amazing over-the-top performance from John Hurt, to be appreciated. The movie certainly goes for it in terms of entertainment value, but comes up a tad short. Directed by Andrew Lane, who along with his co-producer had a hand in films like Night of the Comet and Valley Girl, Jake Speed has a fine pedigree, as well as a memorable score from Mark Snow (The X-Files), but may take a couple of watches to fully appreciate it.
Arrow Video brings the film to Blu-ray in the U.S. sporting a 2K restoration from a 35mm interpositive element. The presentation is certainly a step up from lower grade home video releases, but is uneven in terms of quality. Grain levels waver from chunky to thin, and fine detail is sometimes hampered because of it. Everything appears clean and stable while blacks are often crushed. The color palette doesn’t offer bold hues, but represents the film’s various environments well, from suburban households to dimly-lit bars to the wide open spaces of Africa. Greens, browns, and occasional reds have the most potency. It’s clear that the element of choice was not necessarily the best, but it was perhaps the only one available.
The audio is included in English 2.0 mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a relatively effective track for what it is, though one can’t help feeling that a true stereo experience would have benefited the film greatly. Dialogue exchanges are mostly clear and precise, though a tad lost during the soundtrack’s busier moments, while the score has plenty of lift without overpowering the other elements. Sound effects, including gunfire, explosions, and ambient outdoor activity, have a nice boost to them as well. Everything works relatively well from the confines of a single channel of audio. It’s also a clean track, free of any leftover hiss or crackle.
The following extras are included in HD:
- Paperback Wishes, Cinematic Dreams: Directing Jake Speed (21:01)
- The Hard Way Reads Better: Producing Jake Speed (12:00)
Ballyhoo Motion Pictures takes up the extras duties. Director Andrew Lane discusses working with Wayne Crawford; the importance of being different in an industry of sameness; casting the film, including the tidbit that Bruce Willis was a possibility for the lead; the difficulty of shooting the film on location; the rebellion in Zimbabwe and its effect on the shoot; and the failure of the film’s marketing. Producer William Fay speaks about how he got involved with the project; the issues involved with shooting the film in Zimbabwe; various budget concerns; the difficulties involved in shooting the film’s final chase sequence; going back for reshoots and additional shooting; a memorable incident involving a plane ride; and working with New World Pictures. Also included in the package is a 24-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, the essay Heroes Don’t Die: The Need for Jake Speed by Mark Cunliffe, and restoration details. The artwork is also reversible, featuring new artwork on one side, and the original poster art on the other. Not included from the previous Anchor Bay DVD are three trailers for the film.
Many may find Jake Speed to be a bit of a boring affair, and rightly so, but others will appreciate it for what it’s attempting to do, even if it isn’t entirely successful at it. Arrow Video’s release offers a capable A/V experience, but lacks a bit in the supplemental department—despite the two decent interviews that have been included. For this title, the phrase “your mileage may vary” is certainly apt.
– Tim Salmons