Based on the 1948 novel, Richard Heffron's I, The Jury (1982) is the second adaptation of Mickey Spillane's pulpy revenge thriller. It's also the first appearance of hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer (Armand Assante), who's looking to avenge the murder of his one-armed vet buddy, Jack Williams (Frederic Downs). Along the way, he discovers secrets at a sex clinic run by Dr. Charlotte Bennett (Barbara Carrera) and a tail from the CIA, who may or may not use mind control when interrogating suspects. It's danger at every turn for Hammer, who beats off the ladies with a stick while doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants. The screenplay was penned by Larry Cohen, who lost the director's chair for arguing about a budget that ended up bankrupting the film's distribution company.
I, The Jury should be a lightweight and breezy viewing experience…and it actually is, at times. But the film's got a nasty habit of piling on too much extra junk in some of the wrong places: all that CIA mind control and sex clinic stuff was nowhere to be found in Spillane's source novel, while almost all of the nudity and violence has been amplified to levels you'd expect from an early 1980s production. For some folks, the latter might sound like a good thing---and to be fair, there's a certain campy charm to this over-the-top, unfocused production, driven by Assante's ridiculously confident lead performance---but the end result is an overlong, almost numbing onslaught of machismo that takes itself far too seriously almost every step of the way. It's not all unintentional comedy, of course, but I, The Jury is more Rambo III than First Blood...and honestly, which one would you rather watch more than once?
The performances are hit-or-miss, and some of the misses are miles off-target. Armand Assante's turn as Mike Hammer only fits if you're completely sold on the film's most over-the-top moments (I'm not), as his confident swagger almost borders on laughable as the problems pile up for our charming anti-hero. Geoffrey Lewis (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) shines in an extremely limited supporting role framed around an admittedly well-crafted chase scene, while Paul Sorvino turns in a reliable performance as Detective Pat Chambers, who reluctantly puts up with Hammer's smirking disregard of authority. Smaller roles, such as Williams' widow Myrna (Mary Margaret Amato), are distracting in their awfulness. This odd combination of pulpy dialogue, shoot-em-up action, gratuitous nudity, made-for-TV appearance, and way too much plot doesn't go down nearly as easy as you'd think, creating a half-empty cocktail that's watchable at best and pandering at worst, both for its wild ambition and shaky execution.
20th Century Fox's new "Cinema Archives" edition of I, The Jury marks the 33 year-old film's debut on DVD, which will undoubtedly draw in nostalgic fans who are either still clinging to worn-out VHS copies or reluctant to shell out big bucks for it. This is a burn-on-demand release that's unsurprisingly light on bonus features, but the film's dependably decent A/V presentation as least ensures it'll look and sound a little better than you remember.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Fox serves up a perfectly adequate 1.85:1 transfer here, boasting a solid amount of image detail and very few items to complain about. I, The Jury's natural but slightly overcooked color palette holds up nicely with very little bleeding, while contrast levels and subtle touches of film grain are consistent from start to finish. This is a single-layer DVD-R but compression problems aren't an issue, especially since it's pretty much a movie-only affair. Overall, this is a perfectly watchable presentation that nostalgic fans will appreciate; even more so since it's the film's digital debut (replacing the out-of-print VHS from 1990!) and it probably won't earn another physical media release.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.
The audio is presented in its original Dolby Digital mono format and defaults to a two-channel spread; there's a decent amount of depth at times, but it sounds pretty much like you'd expect for an action movie of this era. Dialogue and background effects are well-balanced and don't fight for attention, while Bill Conti's smoky jazz soundtrack offers a few touches of subtle (and not-so-subtle) ambiance along the way. Defects are minimal and likely related to the source material, including a few bits of dodgy ADR and very slight hissing at times. Unfortunately, optional English subtitles are not included, which makes the film's already overstuffed plot that much harder to follow.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The plain-wrap interface follows Fox's usual "Cinema Archives" format, allowing only the options to play back the main feature or its Theatrical Trailer
(1:52). Typical chapter selections aren't included, but skipping back and forth moves the film ahead at 10-minute intervals. This burn-on-demand release is housed in an eco-friendly keepcase---luckily, the kind without all the holes---and includes poster-themed artwork and no inserts of any kind.
Even with an overstuffed plot that pads out elements of Spillane's source novel, this second film adaptation of I, The Jury still feels paper-thin and inconsequential. The film falls back on fan service that does little to advance the plot, which makes for a few moments of campy, over-the-top fun but the effect is ultimately deflating. Performances are barely passable at times: Assante carries most of the weight with machismo to spare (and that's not always a good thing) while Geoffrey Lewis and Paul Sorvino shine in their limited roles, but some of the supporting performances are borderline laughable at times. Still, first-timers with a soft spot for down-and-dirty 1980s action might enjoy this 1982 cult production, while die-hard fans will jump at the chance to replace their worn-out VHS copies. The latter should consider it recommended, but a weekend spin will be more than enough for most. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.