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Theme Tuesday - Penny Marshall - Jumpin' Jack Flash

In honor of one of the few American female filmmakers that regular people could name, I will be watching all of the works of Penny Marshall, who passed away in late 2018, for January 2019.


Jumpin’ Jack Flash would not have been anyone’s auspicious birth of a director. The production was in chaos as the script was rewritten several times, once by no other than David Mamet. It was originally meant for Shelley Long but was later replaced by Whoopi Goldberg. It was only by a chance meeting with Goldberg and the urging of her brother Garry Marshall, a successful director in his own right, that Penny Marshall decided to finally step behind the camera, since she would be “learning on the job.”

There honestly isn’t much here to distinguish this movie. It was critically panned, despite being a modest success. The best thing about the movie is Whoopi Goldberg, whose squirrely presence and her signature brassy attitude can make even the most banal dialogue interesting. The movie does clip along at a nice pace though, although the basic scenario of a woman talking to a spy over the computer presents a lot of challenges that this movie doesn’t overcome. Though her life is supposedly endangered with the first contact with “Jack Flash,” there are long stretches of this movie with relatively little tension, and the bad guys only show up when it’s convenient for the film to have some action.

If anyone is a major creative voice in this movie, it’s Goldberg. Marshall’s biggest contribution to this movie was to get it done, a task so difficult that even veteran director Howard Zieff hadn’t been able to do it. Also, letting Goldberg do all the heavy lifting and sell a so-so story was the wise choice, with the help of a talented supporting cast including Carol Kane and Jon Lovitz to make the movie slightly better. As talented as Shelley Long is, this movie would have been even more forgettable with her as a lead. It will be interesting to see if there is anything to consider Penny Marshall an auteur as I explore more of her work, perhaps when she had a bigger hand in the story and the writing itself.

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