Film Review: I, the Jury (1982)


"Toxic masculinity" is the phrase that became popular in recent times, but if it had been around in late 1940s, it would have probably been applied to the works of Mickey Spillane and his best known literary creation, private detective Mike Hammer. The ultra-machistic protagonist of Spillane's novels was known for his own brutal pursuit of vigilante justice and a lot of sex and violence, sometimes applied to the same women. Critics despised Spillane's work, but audience loved it and even forced 1950s Hollywood to adapt it in films and TV shows, often toned down due to censorship concerns. In much laxer atmosphere of 1980s Hammer received its first major makeover in I, the Jury, 1982 action thriller directed by Richard T. Heffron.

The plot is based on the eponymous 1947 novel, first in the series, which was adapted as black-and-white film in 1953. New version, written by Larry Cohen, is adapted to contemporary setting and begins with the brutal murder of Jack Williams (played by Frederic Downs), one-armed private investigator. Mike Hammer (played by Armand Assante) hears about this after being brought by his friend, police detective Pat Chambers (played by Paul Sorvino), to see the body. Jack lost his arm while saving Hammer's life during Vietnam War, so Hammer is determined to bring the killer to justice. While investigating, Hammer is pursued by government-trained assassins, but the initial trail leads to sex clinic led by beautiful psychotherapist Dr. Charlotte Bennett (played by Barbara Carrera). Although he has sex with her, Hammer is distrustful and with good reason, because it turns out that the sex clinic is actually front for the mind control programme led by renegade CIA operative Colonel Romero (played by Barry Snider). Subjects are manipulated into becoming sex-obsessed maniacs that later assassinate foreign terrorists, left-wing radicals and other "inconvenient" people under the guise of serial killings. As Hammer begins to expose the scheme, his and the life of his loyal secretary Velda (played Laurene Landon) are increasingly in danger from Romero's assassins.

Stylish opening titles suggests that Mike Hammer was supposed to be protagonist of the new film series in style of James Bond. In reality, I, the Jury looks like a cheap film, which is partly due to relatively low budget, and partly due to uninspired direction by Richard T. Heffron, television veteran hired to replace Larry Cohen after one week of shooting. Cohen's script was, on the other hand, kept, together with subplot about US government and its intelligence agencies being involved in various sinister shenanigans, which would become relatively popular motive for makers of action thrillers in next few years. If Cohen intended to make some sort of political statement, it was drowned in the sea of exploitation material. I, the Jury features large amounts of graphic violence, including the scene when a woman is killed in restaurant in a way that looks fitting for black comedy. It also features large amounts of nudity and sex, including the orgy scene featuring real life porn actors. It also combines violence and sex, like the scene in which twins, played by Playboy Playmates Leigh and Lynette Harris become victims of sex-crazed killer played by Judson Scott.

Armand Assante in the first leading role of his career relies a lot on a "tough guy" image that would develop later in his career. His performance is solid, but not that remarkable and he is overshadowed by the rest of the cast, including exotic-looking Carrera who appears in steamy sex scene, as well as dependable character actors like Geoffrey Lewis as alcoholic war veteran and Alan King as Hammer's mobster contact. Assante acquitts himself only near the end in the action scene during which he dispatches numerically superior villains in a way that would make Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris proud, as well as the finale which is the part of I, the Jury most faithful to its controversial literary source. Modern-day viewers, who don't take this film too seriously, might find some reason to enjoy it although they, like those few decades ago, might feel guilty afterwards. In the end, the ultimate 1980s Mike Hammer was played by Stacey Keach in a popular and long-running TV show.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

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