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Rating: *** out of ****
Despite having one of the worst titles I've ever heard, Jack's Back is actually a nifty little thriller, a true hidden gem if I ever saw one. I happened to come across the film at a used video store (like the title, the cover box is pretty awful, too) (makes you wonder if the trailers and TV promos were also just as lame), and being a James Spader fan, decided to give it a look. Nice to see this turned out to be one of the better impulse buys I've made in a while.
The title refers to Jack the Ripper, or more specifically, a copycat who's committing similar murders in Los Angeles on the same days on the hundredth anniversary of when the original killings occurred. Without giving anything away, I'll simply say that James Spader and Cynthia Gibb are the protagonists who are searching for the killer, even though Spader himself might be the one.
Despite a plot that plays somewhat like a routine thriller, the story is still fairly enjoyable for what it is. There are a few plot twists and turns, some unpredictable, some which are fairly obvious. Fans of whodunnits (and let's face it, I think everyone enjoys a good whodunnit every once in a while) will find just enough intriguing detail to make this at least an average viewing.
But what sets this apart from many thrillers, particularly those of the late 80's, is the emphasis on characters. Writer/director Rowdy Herrington probably spends even more time developing the lead protagonists than he does fueling the main plot (I can actually see how this might somewhat disappoint whodunnit fans hoping for a very convoluted plot, or slasher fans expecting more, well, slashing). Consequently, the suspense is ratcheted up a few notches and we find ourselves caring about the outcome.
Most of the credit for this should go to Spader, who delivers a terrifically charismatic and extremely likable performance. He plays a man who's hardly a saint, but realistic in that he's flawed, and simultaneously more than capable of showing a genuine conscience. Cynthia Gibb (who's very cute) works well with Spader, she's charmingly convincing and adorable. The rest of the cast isn't really worth mentioning except for maybe Robert Picardo as a thoughtful police psychologist (who happens to live in a mansion, no less). Everybody else is mostly present to act as suspects or people who are simply in Spader's way.
Herrington's direction is quite good, setting up a creepy atmosphere, nicely accompanied with an equally creepy score. It's Herrington's storytelling that could use more work. While many details are set up well, the finale stumbles due to a rather large leap in logic. To some, the film's conclusion might also seem rather abrupt, without quite enough explanation for all that transpired. If Herrington had tightened up his story, he might have had a great thriller on his hands. As it is, this is merely a good movie that rates well above average. But I shouldn't be complaining. Jack's Back is a pleasant surprise, even moreso for a movie with such an awful title.
Someone is killing prostitutes in a very Jack The Ripper-esque fashion on
the 100 year anniversaries of The Ripper's original murders. A med
(Spader) gets caught up in the last murder and winds up meeting a tragic
fate. Now his twin brother (also played by Spader) is out to find the
responsible for his death and gets caught up in the middle of the copycat
murder case in the process. Oh, and he has to clear his own name because
is a suspect in the above mentioned case AND also a suspect in his
murder...Whooo. Now that's a s*** load of plot!
Jack's Back is an odd movie and kind of deceiving. You see, no one in their right mind is gonna market a movie this complicated. So what the box tells ya is that Jack's Back is about a murderer mimicking the Jack The Ripper slayings of a century ago. Well, that's only half the movie. Jack's Back is a murder mystery turned revenge noir turned suspense thriller that manages to avoid drowning itself in murky plot, pointless subplot, or endless dialogue in an attempt to competently tell the story and wrap everything up in the end. From the title and basic premise of the film one may think it's just your basic slasher type/murder mystery exploitation stuff that was recycled over and over again when this movie was released. If so, you're wrong...
Jack's Back starts as a murder mystery about a nutball killing prostitutes, when we meet a med student with a heart of gold, John played by James Spader. He soon finds himself at the scene of one of the Ripper murders and is eventually killed. His shady twin brother Rick who sees the murder in a dream soon pops up. The police are quick to write off John's death as a suicide, but Rick knows better. He soon sets out to find the guy responsible with the help of Chris (Gibb) who had a thing for John and is developing a thing for Rick when he finds that things aren't as they seemed and the Ripper copycat is out for more blood. Writer/director Rowdy Herrington gives us a strong, well developed script with great characters and memorable situations. His ability to shift from a murder mystery to revenge flick to thriller deserves major props. Props to Herrington for creating such likeable and complex characters too. Great job! From a directing standpoint, Herrington gives the movie a moody and uneasy atmosphere blanketed in thick fog. Burnout Central award to Herrington.
James Spader delivers a layered and very strong double performance that engaged me and kept my eyes glued on him. Cynthia Gibb gives a strong performance as well. I dug how the script didn't go into familiar romantic territory even though Spader and Gibb had great chemistry. Burnout Central awards to both!
It was great to watch a movie with such a dense storyline that never forget what it was supposed to do-entertain. I was intrigued and fascinated with the story, performances and Herrington's ability to construct such a multi-layered plot and still find a way to pull it all together. Jack's Back isn't conventional in the least, it marches to its own drum, has class, and is well written, acted and directed. Check it out!
It's been a long time since I've seen this but I enjoyed the movie and
thought that James Spader gave a great performance. My best friend had
it taped off TV and was mentioning the movie one day and hunted it out
for us to watch after I had said that I had never seen it or even heard
of it, which was odd because I was a fan of James Spader.
The movie has a lot of twists and turns and the excitement builds up and you really get engrossed in the film. James and Cynthia had great chemistry and I agree with others that their romance was not done in a typical, over-done fashion.
The title of the movie is bad and makes you think automatically that it will just be some stupid B movie but it's actually one of the best thrillers I've seen and definitely the best thriller out of the "B" section. I think if the film had more publicity and a better cover/title more people would know of it and want to rent it.
I would recommend it to anyone that likes a good thriller, especially ones that they've never heard of and want to be surprised.
I am at a loss to explain why James Spader is not a major star. He got a
good start with 80s teen flicks and didn't burn out too fast. This movie
shows off his acting as well as his on-screen charisma. His everyman is
better than Harrison Ford's, usually, because you know there's some
intelligence and humanity behind the intensity.
There's some nice moments in the movie, and it has a quirky feel that makes it endearing despite the violent content. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite hold together and the quirkiness doesn't stop it from been a familiar story. Incidentally, despite the direct description of its plot, it's a terrible title.
I caught this on TV late at night. Thought it would just be some
typical 80's slasher movie, but I was pleasantly surprised to see
what a genuinely well-made thriller this was. It's a basic potboiler
story, but thoughtfully executed and James Spader is excellent in a
dual role as twin brothers. It's got a little bit of everything --
reincarnating the Jack the Ripper myth, twin brothers who are (of
course) total opposites, a bit of the paranormal, a great whodunit
mystery, and some genuinely creepy scenes. Spader really makes
this watchable -- the story's solid enough, but his performance is
just so much fun to watch. He plays one twin, who is the affable,
friendly doctor who works in a local free clinic, and then his
anti-hero bad-boy twin brother who works a minimum-wage job,
has shady connections, but ultimately shares his brother's sense
of justice and good heart. And Spader's performance isn't the
typical uber-yuppie, not a whiny preppy wimp, and not a total
psychopath. He's just playing an average guy trying to do the right
thing, save the girl, and clear his brother's name by finding the real
murderer. It's good stuff! For James Spader fans, I think it's a great
chance to see him do yet another unique job of character
This item might be trapped in its 80s decor (fashion, music), but this
stylishly compelling and crisp psychological thriller holds it cards
close and leads the way with an appealingly subtle and sincere James
Spader performance. This guy has charisma! And he strongly pulls off
the whole dual part of playing twins. The premise is one of those, the
less you know, the better off you are. When you think you have it
figured out, you'll find yourself at square one again. It's a simple,
but cleverly penned whodunit murder mystery story. Its odd and
manipulative multi-layered structure offers unpredictable turns, hidden
clues, suspicious red herrings, but in the long run leaves some spotty
developments and a real lack of motivation. It might annoy and could've
used some tweaking, but the well-paced story (that takes time to give
our protagonist some depth) and sense of urgency just grips you that
you just go with it. Director / writer Rowdy Herrington's directorial
debut shows assurance in his abilities. The thrills are routine, but
confidently done with razor-sharp timing and jarring force. They're
menacing, brooding, bloody and a little disturbing. He really does hold
you at bay with powerful visuals and anxious suspense. The moody
photography and lighting composition drills in well with the stirringly
blues music score. This blends well in with eerily glum and sullen
atmospheric tinge coming from the Los Angles' setting. The performances
are well-suited. Spader is the film's main drive, but Cynthia Gibb is
capably good and Robert Picardo turns in a sound performance. Its also
stars Jim Haynie, Chris Mulkey, Rod Loomis, John Wesley and Rex Ryon in
amusingly fine support.
A wonderfully quirky and darkly projected thriller that's better than your average output.
Because DTV (Direct-To-Video) thrillers have a reputation for being the
"bastard stepchildren" of larger budgeted cable, TV and big screen fare,
some great little movies that hold dynamite performances have a tendency
become underrated and overlooked. This was definitely one of them.
James Spader gives a performance every bit as remarkable as that of Jeremy Irons in DEAD RINGERS, playing twins who become embroiled in a murder mystery involving a serial killer, who is copycatting the infamous Jack the Ripper's horrendous legacy of bloody terror, down to the most minute details.
B-movie pro Herrington knows how to keep the action, cinematography and editing going at maximum warp, so that the glaring inconsistencies and gaping plot holes are apparent only on repeated viewings. But if you can get past that, you will be rewarded by Spader's performance, (which gives one all the more reason to wonder why this man is not a major star right now), as well as some fine turns by Cynthia Gibb (TV's FAME), Jim Haynie, TWIN PEAKS' Chris Mulkey (another criminally overlooked actor), and a wickedly enjoyable portrayal by Rod Loomis, as a local doctor who knows a lot more about the murders than he lets on.
A nice little surprise that's worth seeking out on the shelves of your local video palace when all the "good" stuff is gone for the weekend.
This film is a solid, off-beat take off of the entire "Jack The Ripper" genre. A solid cast of mostly unknowns do justice to a script with enough plot twist to surprise anyone. Can an identical twin see the other's death? Do identical twins have identical fingerprints? Why can't the hero find a place that sells guns AND bullets. Yes there may be one coincidence too many in the plot. And the wry one-liners sometimes work against the over all haunting mood of the film. But if your looking for a film that covers old ground in a unique, refreshing way; Jack's Back is it. The one big question I had was how could Cynthia Gibb's medical student character afford to drive a $40,000 635CSi BMW sedan.
"Jack's Back" (1988) is a serial killer movie that is thoroughly '80s:
the soundtrack, the lighting, the acting--everything. Watching this
movie is like going back many years in a time machine. In other words,
it's pretty fun. It's also surprisingly restrained. For example, in a
scene where the lead goes into a topless bar to buy a gun, there is no
obligatory shot of topless girls gyrating around steel poles; he just
walks into the bar owner's office. Who knows, maybe the small budget
held them back, but it was actually enjoyable to watch a movie that
didn't indulge in every predictable grotesquerie.
The plot is simple: It's the hundred-year anniversary of Jack the Ripper's crime spree, and someone is killing prostitutes in exactly the same manner, on exactly the same dates. Kinda fun.
A serial killer in Los Angeles celebrates Jack the Ripper's 100th
anniversary by committing similar murders.
My first thought was how strange this film was for starting when there was only one murder left. It seems like it would make more sense to start at the first murder and allow the characters to solve the mystery of the pattern. Instead, they know from the opening scene that the killer is following the pattern of Jack the Ripper. This takes out much of the mystery element...
The cast here is pretty great, with both James Spader and Robert Picardo, both (I think) before becoming bigger names. Spader always had that boy next door charm, and Picardo is interesting and plays his role as a psychiatrist well, coming off as very suspicious at all the right moments.
The New York Times said "is so dull it leaves you plenty of time to marvel at how a plot can be this rickety, how a production can look this shabby, and how the first-time writer and director Rowdy Herrington could borrow a story with so relentless a grip on our imaginations and in no time at all declaw it." This seems terribly harsh. While not the greatest movie, it is still much better than many films out there, and had a premise that was enough to carry it.
I watched this film on Netflix, and I am told this version is different from the one on VHS or that was shown in theaters. I would be curious to know the differences, as I am told they are big enough to completely change the plot of the film... I liked the version I saw, but maybe the other is even better?
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