Blu-Ray Review: Jack’s Back

Published on February 12th, 2016 in: Blu-Ray, Current Faves, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

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In 1986, I fell in love with James Spader. Sure, I was 15 and he was 25; and he was an actor and I didn’t actually know him; but it was real to me, damn it. I’d seen him on the big screen in Pretty In Pink, but he reminded me too much of the rich, preppy jackasses I knew in real life for me to develop anything but antagonism for him in reel life. (And what was up with his feathered, John Taylor-in-“The Wild Boys”-video hair, anyway?)

Serendipity intervened shortly thereafter: Tuff Turf was on HBO one night when I was at a friend’s house and that’s when it hit me: this James Spader guy was all right. Better than all right, in fact. As Morgan in Tuff Turf, he was perfect (and woe unto all the guys who didn’t measure up). Thus began my lifelong quest of watching every James Spader movie ever. That’s how I found out about Jack’s Back, released in 1988.

As fellow Spader fans know, sometimes this quest of watching all of his movies is joyous (Bad Influence, Stargate, White Palace, Crash, Secretary) and sometimes not so much (Keys To Tulsa). Jack’s Back definitely fits into the former category. As we study the Spader canon, it’s also important to observe what part the film plays in the development of the Spader persona: does it contribute to his iconic status as a WASP-y pretty boy who might have a dark side? Yes, friends, it does.

If you haven’t seen Jack’s Back, or like me haven’t seen it in so long that you forgot the entire plot to the movie, it’s really best to go in blind. I’ll tell you that the movie’s salacious tagline is only slightly misleading:

One hundred years ago, in the City Of London, a man shocked the world by raping, murdering and mutilating women.

He was never caught.

Jack’s Back isn’t exactly Time After Time (though some crossover fanfic might be intriguing to read), but it is a genuinely solid thriller, and Spader is extremely appealing in a double role (spoiler alert!), that was written by Rowdy Herrington, who also directed Road House and another underrated Spader film called The Stickup.

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I will warn you, however, James Spader is distractingly beautiful in Jack’s Back and you will be forgiven if you have a hard time following the narrative because of it. No, really. Despite this major handicap, he does a masterful job of both being totally Spader-y and trying to play against type while still keeping the Spader appeal (and smoking unfiltered Camels).

Witness, for example, the scene during which he (as John Wesford) gets called into his boss Sidney’s office to get chewed out for being a rebel; does it not totally echo a similar scene from Tuff Turf when Morgan gets a bit of schooling from the high school administrator? Later, as Rick Wesford, it’s impressive to watch Spader rein in physical mannerisms like his distinctive walk, vocal tics, and posture to try and appear as a completely different character. And it works!

There’s a lot of subtext in Jack’s Back and perhaps unexpectedly, quite a bit of humor. Cynthia Gibb and James Spader have great chemistry together which makes the development of the story that much more believable. Best of all, the plot is full of twists and turns and despite the subject matter, the movie doesn’t feel like an exploitation flick.

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Jack’s Back feels like a top quality TV movie with a lot more swearing and way better cinematography. It’s L.A. Noir-lite and such fun to watch. The remastered Blu-Ray is a million times better than that grainy, washed-out VHS version I saw back in the day. For James Spader fans or lovers of 1980s thrillers, Jack’s Back is essential viewing.

Jack’s Back was released by Scream Factory on January 26 and is packed with extras. There’s a new audio commentary track with Rowdy Herrington plus new interviews with Herrington, producer Tim Moore, lead actress Cynthia Gibb, and DP Shelly Johnson.

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