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'Jumpin' Jack Flash' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 10, 1986

Whoopee, it's Whoopi Goldberg. With a head full of dreads and a Barbara Jordan, honey-bee baritone, the charismatic comedienne pulls the slipshod spy adventure "Jumpin' Jack Flash" out of the fire.

Goldberg is to "Jumpin' Jack" what Eddie Murphy was to "Beverly Hills Cop," a lone actor who turns a generic action comedy into an exceptionally enjoyable escapade. Next to her virtuosity, cardboard characters and jumbled plot simply don't matter. A class clown, she's got more pure pizzazz, more physical elan than any performer since we loved Lucy.

She romps through the role of romantic Terry Doolittle, a computer genius bored with her job in international banking. To spice up her life, she punctuates business transactions with personal communications, sending recipes to a Japanese correspondent and bootleg Springsteen to her man in London. Then one day she intercepts an urgent mayday from a British agent trapped behind the Iron Curtain. And soon she is up to her hightops in hair-raising intrigue.

Like her forebear Eliza, this Doolittle finds herself outclassed but not outwitted by hoity-toity Brits when she seeks help from the consulate. Disguised as Diana Ross, Doolittle crashes a diplomat's ball. While sleuthing in the computer room, her strapless gown is sucked into a paper shredder. "I had moths," she explains. "Big, mutant, junkie moths." Tottering off on stilty heels in her shredded finery, she recalls Jack Lemmon in "Some Like It Hot."

Goldberg has her moments of pathos, too, like any good clown -- or Oscar-nominated actress. Alas, she is disappointed in love when the moviemakers fudge the final outcome -- apparently an interracial romance is just too risky for such standard fare. Penny Marshall, who is making her debut as a director of feature films, has done her best to finesse the issue. As with Murphy and his art-gallery girlfriend in "Beverly Hills Cop," you feel like something ought to happen, but it doesn't. Marshall at least knows how to give a comedic actress plenty of room to grandstand.

The supporting cast has less to do than a chorus line, with Carol Kane disappointing as Goldberg's lovelorn coworker, and Jonathan Pryce virtually invisible as Jack, the voice of the computer. Goldberg's solo stage experience stands her in good stead as she plays up to a piece of hardware -- and the system, thanks to her, never crashes.

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