I love genre cinema. I will always have a soft spot for horror, action, sci-fi, and all the subgenres that exist inside those larger categories. What I have never felt any real connection to are those films that exist in the realm of pure sleaze. You know the ones: the films from the ’70s and ’80s, filled with ugly violence and sex that is the opposite of titillating, usually shot on cheap film stock with semi-amateur casts. But knowing these films have a large following and several companies devoted to restoring them makes me wonder what I am missing. With that in mind, I am going to do a deep dive into the world of sleazy exploitation. This is My Exploitation Education. This week’s entry is TNT JACKSON.
This trailer is NSFW:
There are moments in TNT JACKSON where it really earns its exploitation bonafides. Sights like the titular badass (Jeannie Bell) wearing only a pair of panties (which change color from black to white and back again at one point in the scene) taking part in an awkward, badly choreographed hand-to-hand fight scene feels like it was lifted wholesale out of the mind of a twelve-year-old boy who fantasized about what kind of R-rated movies showed at the drive-in he was too young to attend. Unfortunately, the film only has a few of these pure, unfiltered bits of trashy, beautiful sleaze in an attempt to make up for the painfully dull story happening around the good stuff.
When Diana (a.k.a. TNT) travels to Hong Kong (which suspiciously—ahem—looks like Manila) looking for her missing brother, she stumbles on to a drug smuggling ring that includes fellow Americans Charlie (Stan Shaw) and Sid (co-writer Ken Metcalfe) and their local partner Ming (Jose Mari Avellana), a shady type who does not trust Charlie or his interest in TNT. Of course, what TNT does not know is that Charlie murdered her brother in a drug deal gone bad. In addition to this complication, no one knows that Sid’s girlfriend Elaine (Pat Anderson) is actually an Interpol agent out to bust the whole lot of them. What should be a powder keg ready to go off is instead a phoned in effort by basically everyone involved.
I expect a certain level of sloppiness from these ‘70s Roger Corman productions made in the Philippines. But it’s a stretch to even refer to TNT JACKSON as slapdash. That implies a certain amount of urgency to get a film in the can that usually translates to at least an energetic mess. Here, with the exception of a couple of decent fight sequences and some occasionally chuckle-worthy mugging by comedian Chiquito as Diana’s sidekick, the rushed production just comes off as listless. Whenever there is a dialogue scene that lasts longer than a minute, the lack of forward momentum is hard to ignore, putting more pressure on the action scenes to liven things up. Unfortunately, awkward martial arts performed by leads that have no idea how to sell their fights force director Cirio H. Santiago to resort to fast motion for long sequences, making the fights look even sillier than they were in the first place.
Santiago was a veteran of these fast and cheap action flicks, but the quality of his films veered all over the map. Considering he directed roughly a hundred films in his career (averaging two a year), it is not a surprise that he would churn out several duds to go along with those that work. This is the fourth of his films I have covered in this column with the current tally being two up (DEATH FORCE, THE MUTHERS) and two down (TNT JACKSON, VAMPIRE HOOKERS). That seems appropriate.
Of course, there does not seem to be much that Santiago could do with the script provided to him by Metcalfe and Dick Miller (yes, that Dick Miller). Their screenplay is hodge podge of drug smuggling and revenge clichés that would be excusable with more interesting characters, better action, and a more tongue-in-cheek tone. Unfortunately, Santiago clearly does not have the time or budget to pull off decent action sequences and tries to play the plot out with a deadly straight face, meaning the only sense of life comes in when a moment suddenly goes absurd like the scene of Diana battling a bunch of baddies while in the buff or the final action sequence that finally goes fully over-the-top with main characters plunging over balconies to their abrupt deaths and Diana punching her way through a man’s stomach while in a fit of rage. TNT JACKSON needed more ludicrous moments like these and less dull intrigue over stolen heroin shipments. Sadly, this is still a relevant criticism of movies being released today.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)