Opening with a grainy line of credits and an oh-so-80’s theme, Jack’s Back is a true product of its era. The setup to the film is quickly spelled out in the first five minutes, as Los Angeles cops babble out major plot exposition as though they themselves were somehow unaware of the crime wave sweeping the city; bodies of young women murdered in a manner identical to that of infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper’s victims have been found scattered around the city, coincidentally on the 100 year anniversary of each of the original Ripper’s murders.
With three down and more to go, police fear there are more bodies soon to surface if the copycat killer, nicknamed the Ripper by local media, is not found. As Robert Picardo, playing Dr. Carlos Battera, a psychologist working with the police, says in an overdone and dire manner, “He must be stopped”. Bratpacker James Spader stars as John Westford, a medical intern with a seeming heart of gold who works at a free clinic, and tends to a refugee camp of immigrants and squatters in his spare time, all the while bullied by an overbearing and unsympathetic boss who threatens to fire him at every turn.
The opening of the film should be enough to give viewers a clue that it has not aged well. Worse still, its quality is greatly hampered by hammy overacting and subpar scripting. The greatest waste in this film comes from the use of James Spader. Film fans know from Spader’s work in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Less Than Zero, and Secretary, that the actor has a talent for adding great charisma to even his blandest and darkest roles, but somehow he manages to completely flatline in this terrible film, in spite of its darkly sexual and violent themes.
The film’s poor research into its subject matter clearly shows throughout the film. The supposed copycat crimes include sexual assault, when it has long been known that Whitechapel’s infamous Jack the Ripper was, perhaps surprisingly to those not researched in the matter, not known for having any sexual contact with his victims. While it may seem a slight error, the fact remains that any film harkening back to the infamous unsolved murders of Victorian London will draw in an audience that is fascinated by and perhaps well versed in the details of the Jack the Ripper murders. Add in a major portion of the film’s plot – a pregnant prostitute in search of an illegal late term abortion – being based upon faulty supposition from a 1930’s era look at the Ripper murders, the film smacks of poor planning and outright terrible research.
Beyond that, the absolute ineptitude of the police in the film is enough to cause a collective eye-rolling from the audience. Pinning a series of murders on a man who had attempted to call and report them – even giving his name in the process – is ludicrous, if not outright stupid.
There is no saving this film – not even a major plot twist that seemingly seeks to remedy all of its failings. A clever idea, though done before, it had the makings of something at least interesting, but ultimately never strikes the proper chord.
Jack’s Back (1988)
Starring: James Spader & Cynthia Gibb
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Writer: Rowdy Herrington
Studio: Palissades Entertainment