Written and Directed by: Rowdy Herrington
Starring: James Spader, Cynthia Gibb and Jim Haynie
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ďThey say that Jack the Ripper was surgeon... this may be the same as our current killer."
Since slashers were the rigueur du jour in the 80s, I guess it made sense that someone would get the bright idea to transport Jack the Ripper, one of historyís most notorious slashers, to contemporary cinema. What doesnít make much sense is plopping him into a movie thatís neither a slasher nor a thriller; instead, 1988ís Jackís Back is a stagnant crime drama with few believable stakes and even fewer believable plot turns. That latter point actually isnít a bad thing, as Jackís Back isnít completely bereft of some cool ideas; unfortunately, they all come up front.
When we open in late 80s Los Angeles, we learn that someone is commemorating the 100th anniversary of The Ripper murders in deadly fashion. A copycat has been running amok, and heís about to complete the final slaying in the cycle. L.A. resident John Westford (James Spader) is a doctor at a health clinic, and one of his patients becomes the killerís last targets. His attempt to intervene is met with failure and a noose, as the killer tracks him down and hangs them before he wakes up in his bedÖor does he? Actually, no, he doesnít--we soon realize that this is Johnís brother, Rick (also played by Spader), whose telepathic connection with his twin allowed him to experience the murder as a nightmarish vision.
Itís a handy talent to have in oneís back pocket, especially since his brother is framed for those Ripper murders, so Rick has to spend the bulk of the movie attempting to clear his brotherís name, a pursuit that has no real intrigue for viewers who are privy to pretty much everything. Somehow, Roddy Harrington took a notoriously unsolved mystery in Jack the Ripper and used it as a launching point for a film that has very little mystery or tension at all. We know that John didnít commit the murders, and weíve seen the face of his meat-headed, roid-raged killer whose name is (get this) Jack. Harrington attempts to wedge in some drama by making Rick a suspect, primarily because heís the ďbad twinĒ and has the evil twin scar to prove it.
But the movie even goes out of its way to refute this for the cops, as Rickís buddies even show up to provide an alibi; nevermind, that, though, as they continue to doggedly hound him (one scene features an actor doing the most overly earnest portrayal of a cop Iíve seen in a long time). None of this makes much sense, and the movie plods along until itís time for a requisite stalking sequence when the killer targets Cynthia Gibb, here playing Johnís fellow doctor who ends up helping Rick in his ďinvestigationĒ (which basically amounts to him being hypnotized and having dreams). Oh, and heís apparently also a master sleuth who picks up on minor details to help him figure out that Jack killed his brother. Does this sound like giallo territory? You bet your ass it does, and, in true giallo fashion, Jackís Back starts pulling twists and turns out of its boring ass; youíll see all this coming a mile away when it looks like everythingís been wrapped up with about fifteen minutes left (though, to be fair, Jackís Back has been so uneventful up until that point that you wouldnít be that surprised if it just labored on for no good reason).
Unlike a good giallo (or even an average one), Jackís Back is mostly devoid of style and on-screen violence. We see one of the faux-ripperís victims look at her slashed-open hand during the opening scene as well as the aftermath of another murder (which also comes after an abortion, so itís doubly messy), but, beyond that, Jackís Back is a dull, uneventful procedural that spills most of its cards too quickly and clumsily fumbles as it tries to pick them up. If thereís a saving grace, itís Spader, who turns in a couple of good performances as the Westford twins; Johnís the empathetic egghead, while Rickís the troubled one with a slight criminal history, and both are well-realized by Spader, who was in the middle of an impressive stretch of acting gigs. Rick is an especially tricky character since Spader has to come off as a bit mysterious and stand-offish to instill the tiniest bit of doubt about his intentions (which, again, doesnít make much sense because thereís little-to-no chance that heís actually the killer).
Spaderís turn aside, Jackís Back canít be counted among the impressive; itís got promise (and a rocking 80s theme song), but itís squandered by a plot that canít keep up with its own absurdity after the first twenty minutes. A story featuring telepathic twins and a Jack the Ripper copycat deserves a more thoroughly entertaining film than this (or even a film that does anything with the concept since the Ripper angle is finished before it gets started). I actually saw Jackís Back sometime in the early 90s; for some reason, I thought Spader vaguely resembled Michael J. Fox on the cover (I was apparently blind as a child), so I plucked it from the shelf, watch it, and subsequently forgot all about it over the next twenty years. Until now! The movie never made it to DVD (much less Blu-ray), but it has popped up on Netflix Instant recently. Itís in widescreen and looks good enough, plus itíll save you from taking a chance on buying it if it ever does come to DVD. Rent it!
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