A LOOK BACK AT THE ULTIMATE ACTION CAREER AND LEGACY OF JEFF SPEAKMAN IN ‘DEADLY OUTBREAK‘ (1991).
You can see this one for free at the excellent streaming platform Tubi. (Is it tubby? Tooby?) And see it you must. Finally! The promise that Jeff Speakman delivered in The Perfect Weapon, that was derailed or sidetracked in Street Knight and The Expert, is merged with a competent and coherent script, a director steeped in stunts, and the result is Deadly Outbreak. (It’s titled Deadly Takeover in tubi. Maybe the title given to the film in other markets?)
Brought to us by Nu Image, progenitor of Millennium Films. They have carved a niche in the medium to low budget action genre, and have delivered solid entertainment classics for over twenty years (Cyborg Cop, Rambo 4, The Expendables), with names you immediately associate with no no-nonsense action (Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Jason Statham, David Bradley.)
Jeff Speakman as Sargent Dutton Hatfield
Nu Image Productions moves the action to Israel, where Sargent Dutton Hatfield (Speakman) is an American Embassy guard working detail, escorting a group of scientists to a chemicals research and development facility. Unbeknownst to Dutton, the “scientists” are a terrorist group infiltrating the facility as part of an elaborate plan involving bombs timed to detonate at a specific time in Washington DC, and a biowarfare virus they’ll retrieve from the facility and use on metropolitan areas, unless the US government pays them $500 million ransom.
In very little time, we’re in Die Hard in a lab, with Ron Silver acting as a discount Hans Gruber. He plays the cool, calculating Colonel Baron. He leaves his henchmen the bloody job of mowing down the security with full auto assault rifles, while he backs every bullet he uses with a solid reason. Over the course of the story’s arc he will become a magnificent sample of the Second Criteria of effective action films:
- Does the antagonist succeed in placing increasing demands on the protagonist, forcing him to increase his skill set and resourcefulness?
Yes! Colonel Baron is an iceberg of detached aloofness around an increasing storm of events that test Sargent Dutton’s skills. After gathering his wits from an initial attack, Dutton pieces together the strategic importance of protecting Dr. Allie Levin (Rochelle Swanson), the lead scientist in the virus’ development. And he begins to fight his way through the ranks of henchmen, to seek help at first.
It was refreshing to see an action movie from the 90s addressing the cliche of the hero ignoring discarded hardware as he works (shoots) his way to the boss. Dutton uses guns and kenpo in ways that feel organic, resorting to martial arts when proximity permits, and picking up guns when his present firearm runs out of ammo. The action is balanced with moments of humor, and it looks like Speakman is having fun, trading quips with Dr. Levin, and throwing wisecracks at the bad guys over the two-way radios.
The Action Exploits of Deadly Outbreak
Rick Avery doesn’t share the director’s credit with William Lusting this time-which was the case with The Expert, Speakman’s previous film-and he puts his stuntman background to good use, with shootouts that use cinematic geography efficiently, and fight scenes that go between rough and gracefully violent. (There’s a gruesomely funny moment involving a shotgun and a henchman’s crotch.) Avery uses an open desert road, a helicopter, multiple cameras, and excellent editing to create a suspense-filled sequence that pays off in an awesomely satisfying finale, and fulfills the Primary Criteria of the effective action film:
- Does the story’s structure and pacing place increasing demands on the protagonist’s abilities, forcing him to expand his skillset by engaging both his mind and body in the process?
Without question. Once Dutton realizes what’s happened he takes ownership of the situation and establishes his credentials as a capable man of action. And when the villains up their viciousness on the hostages and soldiers attempting to control the situation, Dutton draws resources from within to push back against the villain’s plans while trying to maintain his humanity. Rick Avery shows what he can do as a director when he’s fully in charge, and Speakman is having a blast. Deadly Outbreak is a true collaboration that pays off nicely for our entertainment.
The End of Speakman’s Ultimate Era?
And this is where the Speakman train stops for me. The films continue into the early 2000s, but I’m stopping on the high note Deadly Outbreak left me with. If there is a mystery behind what happened to Jeff Speakman, it’s possibly that he became disillusioned with Hollywood. The unevenness of his filmography strongly points as evidence to this, and this situation sent him back to his first passion, martial arts. His American Kenpo Karate Systems has evolved into Kenpo 5.0, and he continues to evolve his training systems he did his best to promote in his films.
It was very enjoyable to retroactively get to know Speakman, and to use his films to develop a criteria for effective action films. Armed with this, let’s get to know the work of other action stars.