Stars: James Spader, Cynthia Gibb, Jim Haynie, Robert Picardo, Rod Loomis and Rex Ryon
We enter the film as the LAPD prepare to hopefully avoid the final murder, as the original Jack the Ripper was most likely responsible for the ‘canonical five’ deaths of prostitutes in 1888 around the Whitechapel area of London. Whoever is recreating these crimes in the City of Angels is interesting because he shows restraint in his brutal killings, not only by waiting for each centennial but by cutting up the bodies only to the degree that his mentor did, which means that the third victim wasn’t mutilated at all. ‘Jack’s Back’ is an unsurprising headline reporting on the case and we see a clipping of it pinned onto what is surely the wall of the killer. We don’t see who it is, of course, but there are strong indications given that it’s a young medical student named John Wesford, who works at Dr Sidney Tannerson’s clinic, pisses off his boss with an astounding level of calm and clearly has a strong interest in the pregnant hooker he sees at the clinic. We know from the police briefing that the last victim will be pregnant and murdered at home.
Only Rick knows better, because he saw it, in a nightmare. The introduction of the twin is done superbly. When he wakes up in bed, we assume that the murder was just a dream, but he looks out of the window to see a growing number of police cars congregating. He walks down to the murder scene, lifts the cover from the corpse and sees... himself. Well, his twin brother, as we now realise. And because we saw what John saw, we’re now set up to think that the new Jack is really a man named Jack, a big bundle of brawn called Jack Pendler who works at the same clinic as John Wesford. Naturally, the cops don’t want to hear Rick, because why would they trust some guy’s nightmare when they have a logical suspect already out for the count. He’s left handed, he’s covered in the last victim’s blood and he worked at the clinic which turns out to link all five victims. They need to shut up the press so they call this case closed, leaving just Rick to follow up on his sure knowledge that his brother wasn’t Jack but was murdered.
So the script is decent, though there are a number of plot holes that can’t be ignored, especially during a finalé that clearly exists only to wrap up the various personal stories that have been building through the film; apparently we can safely ignore modus operandi at this point. Also, while the cops are treated with some respect, none of them cast in the standard LAPD thug stereotype, they’re also rather inept. With a case as prominent as this, you’d think they’d dot their i’s and cross their t’s before announcing the case is closed to the press and, given that they get it wrong, you’d think that they’d really make sure before they do it again. Rick does have a military background, so perhaps we can cut the cops who lose him so often a little slack, but I don’t see how to do the same with their bosses back at headquarters. After four murders that closely mimic the originals a century earlier, why don’t they have issues when number five doesn’t follow suit, given that she was given an abortion before being murdered?
I really wish the ending hadn’t been such a cop-out because I was thoroughly enjoying Jack’s Back. The script kept me interested, the actors delivered well and the direction was interesting too. Right from the beginning, which unfolds to a third rate eighties rock song, it feels like a Michael Mann picture, just shot with a little less overt style and a little more grit. I felt that throughout, especially through the electronic score by Danny Di Paolo and the blue saturation used by director of photography, Shelly Johnson. It’s all very eighties and gets anchored there by the finalé borrowing far more than it should from Manhunter, another very eighties movie that works well as a reference point for a lot of serial killer movies to follow. The ending doesn’t render the film not worthwhile, it just leaves us wondering why Herrington, who had done such a good job up to that point, couldn’t finish up his debut more effectively. It merely knocks the film down from underrated gem to obscure title that’s worth seeing.