Jack’s Back is a terrible title for any film; it’s even worse that the Jack involved is Jack the Ripper, one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. What makes it even stranger is that this horror/thriller hybrid isn’t even about Jack the Ripper, and is set in the 1980’s; inviting the audience to salivate over a real life murderer isn’t a great look, but further disappointing them leaves no-one satisfied. Writer/director Rowdy Herrington wrote this script as Red Rain, after the Peter Gabriel song he planned to open the film, but when that song proved prohibitive to licence, it got dumped and Jack’s Back was the replacement.
Having got all that out of the way, this is an odd, amusingly hokey film that offers a few points of interest, namely the lead performance by James Spader as identical twins, neither of whom are Jack the Ripper. Confused? You will be, as this film sets up a conventional policier, then delivers something…else. John Westford (Spader) is a goody two-shoes LA doctor, given to televised activism and helping out his fellow man. Meanwhile, a surgeon is re-creating the crimes of Jack the Ripper, murdering in a similar fashion to the Victorian killing spree. John Westford gets murdered; his brother Rick Westford (Spader with sunglasses) takes up the investigation, having experienced telekinetic visions of his brother’s last moments, and potentially knowing the possible identity of the murderer.
Ok, so that doesn’t make much sense, and it’s not the only issue here. It seems remarkable that the LAPD find a serial killer imitating Jack the Ripper to be such a boring affair; they see the investigation as a waste of manpower. The film-makers seem to think that the serial killer story should be relegated to a sub-plot, and that the focus should instead be on the Westford’s telekinetic link. This makes for a baffling, confusing but kind of original film, with Spader doing a decent if sub-Dead Ringers job of differentiating between the twins.
Barely released on DVD, Jack’s Back isn’t exactly a good movie, but it’s got a strong original idea and a strong lead; perhaps due to so much else going on, the final revelation of the killer at the end floored this critic. The 18 certificate trailers created expectations that Spader’s Rick Westford was the culprit, but…well, you’ll have to find out for yourself, but for hardened mystery addicts, there’s something engagingly off-centre about this over-cooked, under-seen thriller.