Since I started writing these columns a few years ago, no movie has been requested more for the #HeavyAction treatment than 1991's The Perfect Weapon, Hollywood's attempt to make international Kenpo champion Jeff Speakman into the latest action hero. Well, it's '90s Action Day for #Junesploitation and there's no better time to give this movie its long overdue consideration. This is a very '90s action movie.
Why do some action stars catch on and others don't? It's a question I've brought up before here in Heavy Action, but it's worth revisiting when talking about The Perfect Weapon, as it's just the kind of movie designed to create a new action star in Jeff Speakman. The film was released in 1991 at the peak of the genre's Golden Age, when nearly every action star was at the height of his (because they were pretty much all men) power. Familiar favorites like Stallone and Schwarzenegger were still kicking much ass, while upstarts like Van Damme and Seagal were really on the rise and making the best movies of their career. This is the year that saw the release of Point Break and The Taking of Beverly Hills and The Last Boy Scout. There was a major market for theatrical action films, and the success of previously untested quantities like Seagal and Van Damme gave filmmakers the confidence to create new stars from scratch. Into this marketplace entered handsome, bestubbled, lightning quick amateur actor Jeff Speakman.
Halloween 4) for having a bad temper and being a bad influence on his younger brother Adam. Jeff returns to his old neighborhood to visit Kim (Mako), a shop owner who acted as his father figure and was instrumental in Jeff learning the martial art Kenpo as a kid. Unfortunately, Kim is murdered by a hitman (Professor Toru Tanaka) working for the Korean mob, leading Jeff down a path of revenge to find out who is responsible for the murder and to settle the score. In this he receives help from his estranged brother Adam (John Dye, the floppy-haired love child of James Spader and Judge Reinhold) and a young kid (Dante Basco, Rufio from Hook). Oh, and Mariska Hargitay shows up as the adult version of a girl with whom Jeff used to train, but I'm pretty sure she never speaks in the movie. There's that.
I didn't grow up with The Perfect Weapon. I remember it playing in theaters and I remember the ad campaign that prominently featured "The Power" by Snap! (which also plays over the beginning of the movie). But it wasn't until so many readers began requesting the movie that I finally tracked down a copy and watched it. That was well over a year ago, but I'm actually glad I didn't write this column after seeing the movie the first time. I thought it was just ok -- that Speakman was stiff and the beats were familiar and there are aspects of the movie that are ludicrous. A second viewing helped rid me of most of those hangups, and seeing the movie again this week made me like it a lot more; I'm not ready to crown it one of the best action movies of the '90s, but I think it deserves to be part of the conversation. I'm sure it helps that it's short; like Stone Cold, another great '90s action movie (from 1991, no less), The Perfect Weapon clocks in at under 90 minutes.
I've even come around on the training sequence at the beginning. I like that The Perfect Weapon knew it was going to be "the Kenpo movie" and that Speakman would be the Kenpo guy. If part of the goal of the filmmakers -- including Speakman, director Mark DiSalle and screenwriter David C. Wilson -- was to introduce the martial art to American audiences, it makes sense to put that mission statement right up front. It's a big part of why action fans are still talking about the movie today.
Tango & Cash or in every exchange between Arnold Schwarzenegger and the leather-clad, Freddie Mercury-moustache-having Vernon Wells in Commando (they might as well just kiss). In that tradition, there are some scenes in The Perfect Weapon that can be read as kind of...gay. Maybe it's just because Speakman is such a pretty boy, with his perfectly manicured George Michael stubble and his perpetually oiled upper body, but it's impossible to watch the scene in which he fights three guys and not read it as homoerotic, especially when the characters are making promises to each other like "Full contact. No protection." The fact that there is basically only one female in the entire movie and she's never allowed to speak further contributes to this phenomenon. There's no room for ladies in this world.
Cannon Films, but since then has worked exclusively in the DTV market. It makes the film feel like a one-off -- an action movie forgotten by all but the most devoted fans of the genre. In that way, it's kind of special.
Word has it that Speakman was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2013. Fuck that. He has since recovered, I assume by doing some Kenpo on that shit. He's not going to let illness take him down.
Stay well, Jeff Speakman. You've got the power.
Got a movie you'd like to see covered in a future installment of Heavy Action? Let us know in the comments below!