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‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (R)

By Paul Attanasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 14, 1986

"Jumpin' Jack Flash" would appear to be a movie about modern dentistry. As Whoopi Goldberg screams and hollers and carries on, you become intimate with her incisors, molars and bicuspids, discovering a set of chompers that would be the envy of a backhoe, and which, on one occasion, she sinks into an unfortunate man's groin. This is called comedy.

What makes Whoopi whoop? As Terry Doolittle, she meanders through dull days as a computer programmer, until one day she gets a message on her screen from one "jumpin' Jack Flash," who turns out to be a British spy in trouble. She comes to his aid, which gets her into all sorts of madcap scrapes with the CIA, the KGB, British intelligence and the local constabulary.

As another in the genre of "bored woman lives out romantic underworld fantasy," "Jumpin' Jack Flash" falls far short of "Romancing the Stone" or even "American Dreamer," which is about as short as it gets. It took four screen writers (let's leave them, with mercy, anonymous) to come up with a story that has no real character conflict, and director Penny Marshall, in her debut, doesn't help them any. In homage, perhaps, to her television background (you may remember her as Laverne), Marshall has peopled Terry's office with "colorful" characters (the dumb blond desperate to get married, the officious boss), none of whom connects to the story in any meaningful way.

Worse, Marshall patronizes Goldberg, dressing her in "funky" oversized outfits and juvenile animal slippers, letting her "cut loose" in dance montages, littering her desk with toys and her apartment with a six-foot toothbrush and other oddments, all of which is supposed to make us remark on how "cute" and "lovable" she is. Took the words right out of my mouth.

Whether Goldberg has a talent for movies (and I leave that to you), "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is engineered around her, to an overwhelming degree. Having assembled a fine cast (including Annie Potts, Roscoe Lee Browne, comedian Jon Lovitz, Jim Belushi and singer Tracey Ullman), Marshall gives them nothing to do -- God forbid, they might get in Whoopi's way. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" cynically exploits the appeal of the Rolling Stones' title (the song has almost nothing to do with the movie) in the same way that it exploits Goldberg, Hollywood's flavor of the moment. The result is a movie that you wouldn't wish on . . . well, that you wouldn't wish on your dentist.

"Jumpin' Jack Flash" is rated R and contains considerable profanity.

Copyright The Washington Post

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