Jack’s Back (1988)

27 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Warning: Possible Spoiler Alert

1988—a century since the serial murders committed by Jack the Ripper. This time around, someone is repeating those same murders—a copycat killer. It doesn’t really help that the obvious killer’s name seems to be “Jack.” If that premise sounds like it’d never work as a film, “Jack’s Back” is surprisingly effective in never giving us the obvious, expected elements. This is a gripping thriller—not an exploitation film.

The poster and trailer don’t make “Jack’s Back” seem as interesting as it is. The poster, in particular, has this tagline: “One hundred years ago, in the city of London, a man shocked the world by raping, murdering, and mutilating women…He was never caught.” The marketing for this movie must have thought we were dumb. It’s an insult to movie audiences’ intelligence.

James Spader stars in “Jack’s Back” as two characters—twin brothers who are linked to these new murders. One brother is a medical student named John and the other is a rebel named Rick who runs a shoe store and has been in trouble with the law in the past. (This may be a spoiler, since we don’t find out until the first half-hour that there is another brother.) It’s interesting how Spader creates two different personalities.

John discovers one of the murderer’s victims and Rick is a prime suspect. How could they think Rick is a suspect instead of John? Well…(possible spoiler alert) John is killed a half-hour into the film. This is after John discovers of the murderer’s victims. John was seen leaving the room while chasing after the possible murderer named Jack. Since John and Rick are twins, Rick is suspected for the murders.

And so as the movie’s second half comes into place, Rick is chased by the police and races to clear his name. To his aid is a possible love interest—an attractive medical student named Christine, played by Cynthia Gibb. But she may be the killer’s new target.

“Jack’s Back” does a great deal in interesting us with his many plot gimmicks (there’s an unexpected surprise in the plot every ten or twenty minutes) and the idea of someone copying the Jack the Ripper murders is creepy on its own. And then there’s the ending, which I wouldn’t dare give away. (No spoilers beyond the half-hour mark of the film will be exposed here!) This is a hard move to make for a thriller and it doesn’t do a great job, but a good one. What really makes this movie worth watching, aside from the interesting plot gimmicks, is the performance by James Spader. He’s a great actor who makes his twin-brother characters seem extremely different. And because he plays two good guys, this doesn’t mean he has to be dull or boring. For example, John (who is supposedly the better one of the two brothers) has his share of one-liners and kidding charisma—he’s not the stuck-up, serious medical student you’d expect. And with Rick, he’s not the delinquent we’d expect him to be. He’s just a good guy who gets into trouble at times because he can’t help himself at times. But when he rises to the occasion, we do like him. James Spader is fantastic in this movie.

Cynthia Gibb is also good as the love interest. Her timing with Spader is very effective. Both Spader and Gibb play three-dimensional characters who don’t dumb down their roles. That’s a very tricky performance for one, let along two, in a movie that is a thriller.

“Jack’s Back” is a thriller through and through. What’s surprising is that most of the time, it’s not as routine as we’d expect. I enjoyed “Jack’s Back”—I enjoyed the performances from Spader and Gibb and the contrivances of the plot.

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