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MOVIE REVIEW : Ripper Slashed in 'Jack's Back' : MOVIE REVIEW : Century-Old Legend of the Ripper Gets Slashed Up in 'Jack's Back'

May 13, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"Jack's Back" (citywide) is a psychological shocker that carves up the Jack the Ripper legend in convoluted but predictable ways. It's set in a modern-day Los Angeles onto which a strange, nacreous half-fog seems to have descended, indoors and out. There, a copycat killer is duplicating the Ripper's modus operandi to the last slash. And, though the opening of this movie looks typically sleazy-cheap--a sexpot quaking with fear while a maniac and a rock title theme close in on her simultaneously--first-time writer-director Rowdy Herrington tries to give it some quality.

He's not really after cheap thrills. He wants to create an eerie mood; play with character; pump in some sociological detail. But Herrington gets stuck in his triple-twists, stock characters, chases and movie-movie plotting.

"Jack's Back" is another shocker that fools around with the notions of doppelgangers, good and evil and psychological twinning. James Spader even plays twins here: John is a squeaky-clean clinic volunteer and champion of the homeless. Rick wears a black leather jacket and a tiny gold earring and gives long, meaningful carnal stares to the women. One or both are suspected of being the rip-off Ripper, and there's another Jack prowling around giving abortions, as well as a lot of shifty-eyed fellow suspects, a daring ingenue, grotesquely rude doctors, bad dreams, hypnotists and some extremely natty police.

Spader has carved out a niche for himself in the last couple of years as Hollywood's numero uno snob-creep preppie--in movies like "Pretty in Pink." He's perfect for these roles. He has the glassily cute blond looks, a face that seems to have its own built-in mirror--plus the lizard-lidded down-the-nose glance, the arch, contemptuous, bored drawl. Here, freed from his archetype, he has fun with the divided image: fluffing and sunning himself out for good John, getting faintly sweaty and nasty-eyed as bad Rick.

But beyond Spader's performance, the only really interesting thing about "Jack's Back" (MPAA rated: R for language and violence) is the lighting. Herrington is a longtime lighting technician and he and cinematographer Shelly Johnson make this shocker swim in twilit, smoky iridescence: marine blues, blurry golds and frosty greens. Against this swank rainbow, the blood is like a flash of designer red: moist but tactful.

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