Monday Movie: Jumpin’ Jack Flash, by David Bax
Setting aside for now the fact that Jumpin’ Jack Flash is, in all honesty, not a very good movie, let’s focus instead of what’s notable about it. Chiefly, it is the directorial debut of the beloved and iconic Penny Marshall while, at the same time, serving as a sort of cinematic coming-out party for its star, Whoopi Goldberg. The movie is structured, if that’s the word for it, around Goldberg’s comedic persona. Long sequences, like her Terry trying to decipher the lyrics to the Rolling Stones song of the title or tearing through Elizabeth Arden like a drugged-up whirling dervish, seem to have been filmed under no direction other than just letting Whoopi be Whoopi.
Again, this did not make for a successful movie but it did give Marshall a chance to warm up the muscles that would define her career. Namely, her eye for comedic talent in roles both big and small. Many of Marshall’s most significant works are seasoned with memorable supporting turns from recognizable comedians. In Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Goldberg’s costars might as well be an all-star sketch group, featuring Carol Kane, Annie Potts, Jon Lovitz, Phil Hartman, Jim Belushi, Tracey Ullman and an uncredited Michael McKean.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash is detrimentally shambolic and its vague, “Computers!”-based narrative is hard to take seriously from a modern perspective. But, from an auteurist reading, it’s a crucial part of Marshall’s story on film.