‘Street Knight’ and the Rise of Jeff Speakman as an Action Movie Star
Jeff Speakman delivers the ultimate action goods in Street Knight (1991).
UAMC honors the great Jeff Speakman and his breakout performance in Street Knight! 1991 saw the introduction of American Kenpo Karate master Jeff Speakman to the masses. He had bit parts in Lionheart, Slaughterhouse Rock as well as a starring role in the thriller Side Roads. He also stars in the Ultimate Action Movie Classic – The Perfect Weapon – which you read about here!
As a kid who loved all things karate, this movie was like finding action movie buried treasure. Just so much ultimate awesomeness. We got ourselves a new action hero! But alas, things just weren’t meant to be for Speakman.
Untapped Action Movie Potential
Unfortunately, he got caught in the middle of a dispute between producer Mark DiSalle (who he was under contract with) and Paramount (who had a distribution deal with DiSalle through Speakman), and his buzz was a casualty because of it.
Which is crazy, because at that time, he was even being considered to star in Speed when the film was being developed at Paramount (although when reading the revisions they were making to the script to suit him, I’m kind of ok with that version not getting made). So, It wasn’t until 2 years later (an eternity in action movie fandom) that we got Street Knight, released by Cannon Films.
But by then, the hype surrounding his name was completely gone. And because Cannon was in dire straits, there was almost no promotion for it, and only a limited amount of theaters got the movie. So, Street Knight came and went with little to no fanfare. Which was a damn shame, because Street Knight is freaking awesome!
Jeff Speakman’s Starring Role
Speakman plays Jake Barrett, an ex-cop/karate wizard turned car mechanic who left the force after a hostage situation gone wrong left him with extreme guilt. One day, he’s approached by Rebecca (Jennifer Gatti – Nemesis), who’s searching for her missing brother Carlos (Richard Coca – Only the Strong). He initially turns the plea for help down, but his conscience gets the better of him and he agrees to help her.
Unbeknownst to them, Carlos had gone into hiding after witnessing an execution of his fellow gang members by a band of ruthless terrorists led by James Franklin (Christopher Neame – Hellbound), who staged everything to look like a hit committed by a rival gang. They seek to start a war between the two gangs to burden the police as a cover for their own agenda: a diamond heist.
When Barrett begins to get wind of this, he is framed for the murder of gang leader 8 Ball (Richard Allen – Extreme Justice). Now with the cops and the gangs looking for him, Barrett must utilize all his survival instincts and karate wizardry to stop the terrorists and end the impending gang war.
Street Knight Hits All the Marks
I can’t believe I live in a world where people don’t know about this movie. I mean, it has its fans. But the fan base should be bigger and louder. Seriously. This is classic ultimate 80s/90s action 101. A movie that contains all the beloved cliches that are at the heart of this very site. For real. Just look at some of the classic hallmarks that are featured in it:
- Hero Ex-Cop with a troubled past and an unexplained mastery of karate? ✔
- Hero foils grocery store robbery? ✔
- Hero has a gratuitous butt in the moonbeam shot? ✔
- Creepy looking main villain with a vague foreign accent?✔
- Hero and Love Interest have sex after knowing each other no longer than 2 days? ✔
- Scene in strip club? ✔
- Fight scene in empty warehouse? ✔
- Awesome action movie ballad playing over end credits? ✔
All of those are featured as well as others. It plays like Badass Cop: Greatest Hits. I loved seeing all the old cliches played so well and so seriously. It really put a big fat smile on my face.
The Rise of Jeff Speakman
Now, let’s talk about Speakman for a second. It really is a damn shame he didn’t go on to bigger and better stuff. He does very well as a man consumed with inconsolable guilt who’s tasked with immeasurable odds, but is able to overcome them through sheer will and determination (and karate) and find his redemption. This sucks. His complete believability in the role should have secured him a starring role in something bigger. Or at the very least a sequel.
You deserved better, Speakman. The rest of the cast are pretty good too. Neame is slimy and creepy in the part of Franklin, the head bad guy. Gatti is ok as the Love Interest. Her acting is a lot better than when she played Rosaria in Nemesis, that’s for sure. And appearances from genre veterans Marco Rodriguez, Hank Stone and the late, great Bernie Casey round out a very capable low budget action cast.
Street Knight’s Action Exploits
Now, let’s get to the heart of this thing: the action. And this one delivers. The fight scenes aren’t as long as The Perfect Weapon due to the fact, according to Speakman himself, the low budget didn’t allow for Speakman and Stunt Coordinator Rick Avery to properly choreograph the fight sequences, leaving them with only hours to plan each fight scene out.
And that’s a pity, but that’s also a blessing in disguise, as it gives each beatdown a very gritty and brutal feel. The quickness in which Barrett annihilates the bad guys makes Speakman seem more dangerous a hero than he was as Jeff in The Perfect Weapon. Dangerous, but not invulnerable, as he does take take his fair share of licks. I find that important that heroes take damage in action movies. Sometimes flicks can get boring if the hero is just steamrolling over the bad guys 100% of the time without so much as a finger being laid on them (*cough* Steven Seagal *cough*).
Now, to be honest, we don’t get a scene that is on the same level as Speakman’s complete evisceration of legend James Lew and his cronies in The Perfect Weapon, but we do get a extremely awesome in it’s own right fight scene where he goes toe to toe with a giant of a henchman called… Drum roll please…. Baby Huey (Tom Magee – Stone Cold). It’s a quick one, but it does the trick, and reinforces the fact that Speakman was one of the best and most underrated martial artists/action stars of his era.
The Trails of Jake Barrett
Another thing I really loved about this movie was the ending. *SPOILERS* In most movies of this type, the hero will sometimes come under police suspicion and/or be framed for something (as does Barrett in this). And at the end of it, when the hero kills all the bad guys, that’s it. The hero just goes on with his life like nothing happened.
But wait a min… Don’t the police think you’re a bad guy as well? How are you going to prove you’re innocent when all the bad guys (you know… the very guys who could corroborate your innocence) are now dead? Well Street Knight fixes that. During the climax, Barrett receives assistance from the rival gangs after they discover they’re being set up, and they end up capturing one of the bad guys. So now, they have someone who can prove everything that happened was the terrorists’ fault. Now, is that so hard to write, screenwriters?? Huh? Just leave one of the bad guys alive! That’s all you have to do!
Jeff Speakman Really Was The Perfect Weapon
Any nitpicks? Other than the aforementioned “fights not being longer”, not really. I enjoyed this from beginning to end. It’s these type of movies that are the best. Not trying to change the genre. Just completely content with being a solid, low budget Karate Cop vs Bad Guys action movie. The type of movie Excessive Force should have been. (Which is worth reading up on as well!)
Plus, as the last movie from Cannon Films, they couldn’t have picked a better film to go out with. And as for Speakman? He would go on to do other films, but none would recapture the awesomeness that were found in The Perfect Weapon and this (although I’ve heard the next movie he made, The Expert was really good. I’ll have to check that out one day).
That really sucks. He had more than what it takes to be a great action star. Looks, moves, charisma. He really was the whole package, or dare I say… The Perfect Weapon. Yeah yeah, I know. That was corny. But when an opportunity presents itself for a joke, no matter how obvious, I take it, damnit!
What are your thoughts on Jeff Speakman and Street Knight? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!