1986's "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was a film that had a little trouble getting made. Something like 3 or 4 directors passed on the film before it was given to Penny Marshall (Laverne Defazio) for her directorial debut. What ensues is a funny film, full of great humor, a wild and completley different lead female character, some strangely nerotic supporting characters and an insane plotline thrown in the middle of it all. In the 80's films were ready to 'and did' stretch the boundries of comedic creativity. (Yes I really do think it was a damn creative decade!)Whoopi Goldberg had a very successful theatre act going and had already finished filming an intense role in the film The Color Purple when she landed a starring role in the comedy Jumpin Jack Flash. Goldberg plays Terry Doolittle, a single woman working as an International Bank Transponder in New York City. She isn't thrilled with her job, is disliked by her boss, doesn't seem to care for the quality of her work and is on the verge of breaking the world record for tardiness. All of above stated makes Terry the ideal person to be contacted by a mysterious stranger who is in need of help. His situation is desperate because being a spy for Britian is a tough gig. By pure chance, he taps an eager message to Terry through her computer and of course her inability to control her curiousity sets the huge ball in motion.
A man called Jack is in need of a passport back to England. He's a spy who is finding it difficult to stay alive in Russia. With Terry his only link to the outside, Jack makes a desperate plea for her help. Of course she agrees and all hell breaks loose. Suddenly her own life is in jeopardy while she spends the remainder of the film searching for ways to get Jack out of Russia. Terry gets help from a fellow spy's wife named Elizabeth Carlson (played by Annie Potts) and gets into mounds of trouble from an endless bunch of bad guys who are on her trail. With such an daunting set of problems piling up for her, can Terry Doolittle somehow find a way to get Jack out alive? The whole experience becomes loads of fun to watch.
Director Penny Marshall lets Whoopi's comedic skills fly in the film and many moments are all the more hilarious due to her natural abitlity to adlib many of her physically demanding scenes. One minute she's flying off of a dock and the next minute she's being dragged along the streets of New York inside of a phone booth, (swearing like a fisherwoman all the way). Whoopi is at her best in this film and has a field day with all the capers she must endure. It's great to see her take command of the thin material and grind the humor out.
Alot of the plot in Jumpin' Jack Flash is grossy overexaggerated but it pays off with a great deal of funny moments that keeps the viewer involved. Marshall puts a bunch of detail into her film and being a comedian herself she makes sure that the comedy level never drops off. Sure, it's a highly unlikely story but Marshall invites us into the film and introduces us to the many supporting characters, many of which are comics as well. The talents include the late, great Phil Hartman, Carol Kane, Jon Lovitz and Jim Bulushi. All of which keep it funny and give the film an all around feeling of completion. This is hard thing to do when the film has so many bases it needs to cover plotwise. But it all really works out well. It wasn't meant to be an epic production and deep down the film keeps that in mind the entire time. It's all fun fluff.With Whoopi Goldberg in the lead and Penny Marshall making a great directing debut, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is well worth seeing for those who could get into watchihg a light, scatterbrain film centering around espionage during the mid 80's. **** 4 Stars