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I, The Jury
(1982)

Director: Richard T. Heffron  
Cast:
Armand Assante, Barbara Carrera, Laurene Landon


It was a Friday afternoon here in The City Of Gardens. I was growing restless cooped up inside of my bachelor suite. A few hours earlier, I had gone out to see if the city was willing to play a game with me, but I found that there were no takers, and I had come home under a dark cloud of disappointment. There were more dark clouds than just the one that was under me. Going to my window and pulling the curtain covering it through a few inches, I saw that the sky outside seemed just as disappointed with the city as I was with it. Looking at that sky, I was filled with a slight chill that made me shiver a little even though the central heating of my building was wrapping around me a coat of warmness. With just a little bit of effort, I turned my head down slightly to see how the city was reacting to Mother Nature's touch of cool. From what I saw I suddenly remembered that from my position in my building, one was unable to see any pedestrians walking the streets. All I could see was part of a parking lot next to my building, as well as the building right across the street. The windows of that building were of a cold glazeness, and I could swear from looking at the multitude of rectangular eyes that the building was feeling exactly how I was feeling. It seemed like the appropriate time for a cigarette, though when I reached into my pocket, I only then remembered that I don't smoke, and never have. I looked at my watch, and discovered that I didn't have that much longer to wait. A pal of mine the previous day had not only promised on the telephone that he knew of a place that was right up my alley, but he would personally take me there. It had to do with my search for certain kinds of movies. For I am Greywizard, movie critic. Not just any movie critic, but a critic of unknown movies.

The black lines on my digital watch eventually rearranged themselves during their constantly moving dance to the time where I was to meet my friend outside of my building. I left my bachelor suite and made my way to the outside, where I was greeted by the traditional cool breeze of a Victoria winter as soon as I stepped out of the comfortable warmth of the indoors. I made my way to the sidewalk, where I indulged into that particular period of solitude one calls waiting. While I was waiting, I entertained inside of my brain as to what possibly I would find on my upcoming journey and search. No doubt as to what I would find, and that was cassettes. Not just any kind of cassettes - used video cassettes of movies, the kind that when you turn upside down have two white circles like eyes without pupils that neverless stare right down into your soul and give you a chill that a Victoria winter can't give you. It did not take long for my friend to arrive in his car. I got in, and we headed north out of town. I will cut the unnecessary crap about the journey and skip to when we arrived at our destination. In front of us was a pawn shop, one of those places where people sell disappointments and broken dreams for a few pennies. Opening the door and walking in, I felt the walls of the establishment close around me. You couldn't even fit a pencil in anywhere in the shop, with merchandise stacked to the rafters on the shelves. The merchandise included cassettes alright - hundreds of video cassettes of movies all wanting a second chance to be watched by some poor schmo like myself. I then proceeded to go through each box on each shelf to find the cream of the crop. My patience and diligence was rewarded. I found movies that I had been searching for for years, like the Irwin Allen Fire!, the French movie The Prize Of Peril, and the bizarre family movie Adventures In Dinosaur City.

There was another movie I found that I had been looking for for years, and that was the movie I, The Jury. It was based on a Mike Hammer novel that Mickey Spillane penned years ago. Mickey Spillane. When I was the unlucky employee of a used book store years ago, I came across one I, The Juryof his Mike Hammer novels one day. I read several chapters of it before I skipped to the last page, where it ended with Hammer spitting out, "Now I've killed you, you f**k." That Mickey Spillane sure had the gift of gab and violence, enough to make one wonder if an R-rated movie could replicate his animal power on the silver screen. With the orphaned cassette box in my hand, which had been battered like some abused pet, I... oh, I'm tired of writing in a hard-boiled style. To put it simply, I bought the movie and brought it home to watch. The book the movie is based on had been turned into a movie before in 1953, but I had heard it had been watered down in the process. Although the original novel was written and set in the '40s, this remake is set in 1982. It still takes place in the city of New York, Mike Hammer (Assante, American Gangster) is still a private investigator, and he still has his loyal secretary Velda (Landon, Hundra), and his friendship with policeman Pat Chambers (Paul Sorvino, Repo! The Genetic Opera). But it doesn't take long before it becomes clear that this movie is going to have a much different feel from the 1953 movie... and the original novel as well. A private detective buddy of Hammer is mysteriously assassinated, and as you can expect, Hammer is upset about it enough that he decides to investigate and find the assassin responsible. But as Hammer continues his investigation, he finds that his buddy was tangled up not only with a sex clinic full of naked people run by the mysteriously beautiful Dr. Charlotte Bennett (Carrera, Love At Stake), but that the CIA also has an interest in the case - and the CIA make it clear in graphic ways that they don't want Hammer interfering.

As I indicated earlier, I have not read the original Spillane novel this movie is based on, but from that above plot description I am confident that the story went through some major changes during the scripting process. Not just because of the sex clinic and that the CIA are involved, but because the screenplay was written by Larry Cohen, who in his career has written (and sometimes also directed) more than his share of very offbeat stories, including It's Alive and Uncle Sam. In fact, Cohen was also originally this movie's director, but was fired not long after shooting began and was replaced by Heffron. This change in the vision towards the script may explain some of the problems I had with the finished product... but I'm getting a little ahead of myself, and I'll first deal with what I thought worked in I, The Jury. For starters, I thought that a number of the movie's supporting characters were really memorable, thanks to both Cohen's writing as well as the actors who play these roles. Hammer's loyal secretary Velda, for example, is not someone who always stays on the sidelines. She is shown to be handy with a gun, and is more than willing to help out in any way the boss she is clearly nuts about. Actress Landon acts this role with enthusiasm and spunk, and I would have loved for the movie to have used her more than it does. Sorvino gives Mike Hammer's policeman friend Pat a weariness that makes you think this guy has been around as long as the script suggests. Possibly the most memorable character, however, is played by Judson Scott as a serial killer Hammer gets tangled with along the way. Although he doesn't have that much dialogue, Scott manages to use the little he's given to make a really creepy and hateful guy that you hope Hammer will suitably track down and punish.

I, The Jury also has what past cinematic adaptations of Mike Hammer novels have lacked - liberal doses of sexual material and violence. Although I haven't given the actual Hammer novels a good read, I do know (and probably you do too, even if you haven't read them) that the novels contain a lot of sex and violence. And the way that material comes across in this Hammer movie is often quite pleasing. Carrera twice takes off her clothes in front of Hammer, and what we get to see understandably gets the hard-boiled detective to lower his defenses somewhat each time. And identical twins Lee Anne and Lynette Harris, who were previously featured in Playboy and the movie Sorceress, have a show-stopping scene at the sex clinic. When it comes to violence, the movie also delivers at times. Among other pleasing moments, Hammer gets a long torture by the CIA, an assassin gets his face pushed down on a hot restaurant grill, and the long climatic action sequence is genuinely exciting, jam-packed with explosions and fired bullets. Still, while this sequence is exciting, this Rambo-like action sequence seems out of place for a hard-boiled detective story, even though it was previously established that Hammer is a Vietnam vet. I feel that I also should mention that these scenes of good action take place in the second half of the movie. The action in the first half of the movie is not only infrequent, it is surprisingly badly handled. For example, there's a car chase that is not only unbelievably boring, it seems only there to pad the movie and to try and liven things up. The later violence moments all seem to have a purpose, whether it's to help define a character committing the violent act, or to advance the plot.

And while the action in the latter half of the movie may itself be pleasing, the screenplay more often than not refuses to deal with what happens afterwards properly. When Hammer grills the assassin's face, you might think that he would interrogate the guy afterwards. Nope, never happens. In fact, there are a number of other times in the script where important scenes feel cut short or are simply not there at all. This is especially odd when you consider the middle section of the movie, which is simply dead, with no plot advancement at all for the longest time. They could have devoted that time to those plot holes instead. But it's not just the screenplay that has its share of problems, the direction is also inadequate as well. Maybe Heffron didn't have that much time to prepare after Cohen's departure, which might explain why there is often a sloppy and hastily put together feeling to the entire enterprise, such as key scenes having the actors standing far from the camera. There is no cohesive feeling from one scene to another for the most part, making the movie feel like a different director filmed each scene. This inadequate direction may also explain to a degree why Assante flounders in his role. He often sounds like he has something in his mouth as he speaks, making much of what he says incomprehensible. Although he seems somewhat at ease when his character does a violent activity like clobbering someone on the head, in the quieter moments he doesn't seem able to convey a tough persona. In fact, there were times I was expecting this pretty boy to start giggling about being cast as a hard-ass. Though to be honest, there was some personal prejudice on my part against Assante. That's because Stacy Keach's portrayal of Hammer in the '80s Mike Hammer television show is to me the definite Hammer. In fact, any episode of that series will give you more satisfaction in the end than all of I, The Jury.

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See also: Hollywood Harry, Murder On Fight 502, Who Killed Mary What's 'er Name?

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