What a gloriously stupid movie. Fans of either Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme, or even Michael Dudikoff, will probably turn their noses up at the mere mention of Jeff Speakman. But, I say that type of closemindedness is unwelcome here at Shitty Movie Sundays. We welcome almost all comers. The only discrimination we abide is that directed against high-quality pictures, and the occasional rapist character. Who needs any of that, really?
From 1991, The Perfect Weapon comes to us connoisseurs of the cinematic depths via screenwriter David C. Wilson (who also penned the execrable Supernova), and director Mark DiSalle. This was DiSalle’s second, and last, adventure in the director’s chair, but he had experience with this type of movie, having directed the Van Damme classic, Kickboxer. Kickboxer is quite the premiere, making The Perfect Weapon subject to the sophomore jinx. But does it overcome?
When it comes to unassailable movie quality, it does not. But while this flick lacks the requisite polish that American audiences of the time expected from their mindless action, it does rise above typical straight-to-VHS fare. Too bad this flick made it to theaters.
Real-life martial artist Jeff Speakman plays Jeff Sanders. Helpful flashbacks early in the film let the viewer know that once upon a time Jeff was a wild child (Jeff is played by Micah Roberts as a boy, and Tom Hermann as a high schooler). Suffering with grief from the passing of his mother, Jeff lashes out. None of his bad behavior is shown on screen, but it’s enough for his father, LAPD officer Carl Sanders (Beau Starr, whom eagle-eyed viewers will recognize as Henry Hill’s dad from Goodfellas) to threaten to send the boy off to military school.
Family friend and Koreatown store owner Kim (Mako) comes to Jeff’s rescue, suggesting the boy begin lessons in the martial art of Kenpo. Jeff takes to Kenpo like a fish to water, but an incident in high school leads the elder Sanders to kick young Jeff out of his home, lest his lust for violence corrupt Jeff’s younger brother, Adam.
Back in the present, Jeff returns from his exile, and we viewers are left completely in the dark as to what he got up to in the interregnum. Did Jeff wander the world, Kung Fu-style? Did he settle down and find a job selling copiers? Only one thing is for sure. Wherever Jeff went and whatever he did, it resulted in him acquiring the one love of his life — a brown leather jacket. There’s hardly a scene in this flick where Jeff isn’t wearing that leather jacket. He drives in it, walks and talks in it, and kicks ass in it. It may seem ridiculous now, but back in 1991 that look was killer.
Not long after returning to the mean streets of LA, Kim is killed by Korean gangsters who want to use his store as a front to sell drugs. More specifically, Kim is killed by Professor Toru Tanaka as a gangland assassin also named Tanaka. The big guy, who was sixty years old when this flick was made, was acting on the orders of the evil gang boss Yung, played by the ever-reliable James Hong.
Jeff, as is typical in films of this sort, vows revenge. He is aided in his quest by his brother (played as an adult by John Dye), who also happens to be the homicide detective assigned to the Kim case. What follows is pretty boilerplate stuff. Anyone familiar with circa 1980s action/kung fu flicks knows the formula. What matters isn’t setup or plot. What matters is whether or not Mr. Speakman can bring the goods. Can he kick ass? He can. Speakman was not a small dude in 1991. His punches and kicks land with power — something that is absent in a lot of other movie fighters. Whether it’s fake or not is beside the point. It looks pretty damn good. There are fights galore from beginning to end, and just about every one of them scratches that shitty movie action itch. There’s even a decent car chase thrown into this flick for good measure. The only thing missing is serious gunplay, which fits into Jeff’s character as man of violence, who will not use that violence to kill…or something. It’s a narrow parsing of morality, but what works for Speakman works for the audience.
The only thing missing from this flick is a decent love interest. There is one, played by Mariska Hargitay in an early role, but it looks like most of this subplot didn’t make it out of the editing room. Hargitay and Speakman only appear on screen together a handful of times and, no kidding, do not exchange a single line of dialogue. I’m left to wonder what the point was of keeping any of this footage in the film. On the other hand, this type of sloppy filmmaking is part of what endears one to shitty cinema.
The Perfect Weapon did absolutely nothing to further the careers of its stars or the filmmakers. When compared to other similarly-themed movies of the day, it falls short. But, taken on its own, it’s a rollicking ass-kicker that wields cliché as a weapon. It’s the type of film that flies by. Before one knows it, Jeff is taking care of the bad guy and getting the girl, who still has nothing to say on the matter. Should one face the odd choice of watching either Alien: Resurrection or The Perfect Weapon, I say go with the ass-kicking over the extraterrestrial insects.