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Film / Jumpin' Jack Flash

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Terri: Personal chit-chat is prohibited on the International Bank Transponder.
Jack: Not on it.
Terri: How are you transmitting?
Jack: Clamshell terminal. Can't say anymore. This channel unsecured.
Terri: Whoa.

Jumpin' Jack Flash is a 1986 Cold War suspense comedy directed by Penny Marshall and starring Whoopi Goldberg as Terry Doolittle, a data entry worker in the processing department of a downtown New York City bank. One of her guilty pleasures at work is to drop notes to the operators at the receiving ends of the transfers she processes, who are often in another country, which generates a number of international friendships and trading of recipes, mixtapes, etc. Right after her boss (Peter Michael Goetz) tells her to stop wasting company resources ("Computers are not friendly, Ms. Doolittle." "I'm not a computer, Mr. Page."), she receives a message from "Jumpin Jack Flash", which she tries to dismiss, but becomes intrigued with his mysterious statements. She arranges a time to chat later that night (in the office), but first has to deduce Jack's "code key", which (though it is not stated) will encrypt their communications. The answer is in The Rolling Stones song Jumpin' Jack Flash ("Sing with me and find the key,") and while she comes up with many seemingly good guesses, she realizes that the "key" is, literally, the key of the music: "B-Flat".

It turns out Jack is a spy, and is stuck in Eastern Europe without a way out. He needs someone on the outside to reach one of his contacts and tell them his situation, so they can arrange for a new exit plan. Terry is led to his apartment, where she can find a hidden list of his contacts (she also gets to hear his voice, which is from that point on used in voice over for all his messages). Her meeting with Jack's first contact goes poorly when he is shot dead. She next reaches the wife of one of Jack's contacts (Annie Potts), who has connections at the NYC British Consulate. After various chases and near-misses, Annie and her family suddenly disappear, and another one of Jack's contacts (Roscoe Lee Brown) tells Terry that Jack is a pawn, not meant to be saved but sacrificed for more important reasons. Terry rejects this, and after being drugged by a KGB lackey (James Belushi), barges her way into the presence of the Consul's wife (who formerly had a relationship with Jack), and angrily demands she convince her husband to provide Jack with a new escape plan. Eventually, the wife relents.

All this time, Terry has been building an infatuation with Jack that edges closer to a love affair, even though at one point she has to correct his misconception that "Terry" is a man, which causes Jack to freak out and plans to cut off contact, but she convinces him to let her keep helping him. Eventually Jack seems to return Terry's textual affections.

Unfortunately, it turns out that one of the Consulate staff, Talbott (John Wood) is a KGB mole, who ultimately provided the (bad) contact to the consul. Terry bluffs that she sent Jack different information, and escapes, running to her office to get on the computer and warn Jack about the bad information just as he is about to head out to his certain death. The KGB moles are in tow, and follow her into the office, preventing her from sending the message. A firefight ensues, where it is discovered that coworker Marty (Stephen Collins) is actually an undercover CIA agent, who takes out most of the KGB goons, and Terry manages to disable Talbott, much to his shock, and send off the message. Marty (real name Peter and the last of Jack's secret contacts) gets onto the chat session with Jack and gives him a good contact.

Jack promises to meet Terry for dinner when he gets back to New York, but he never shows, being held up in London. Terry feels silly, and later tries to blow Jack off angrily, when he reveals he is sitting ten feet from her on another computer. We finally see Jack (Jonathan Pryce), and the pair have a romantic reunion to a cheering crowd of coworkers.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aroused by Their Voice: Terry's clearly falls for Jack's soft English voice.
  • Berserk Button: Played with. For the police chief, it's "motherfucker." After a litany of epithets and curses from Terry, that's the one that he decides to lock her up for.
  • Black and Nerdy: Terry; mostly subverted, but cracking code keys and having more online friendships than in real life and an online romance is pretty geeky, even moreso for 1986.
  • Black-Tie Infiltration: Terry breaks into the British Consulate during a party, claiming to be the entertainment (dressed in a spangly gown and lipsyncing to The Supremes). She's really there to hack the computer.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Marty shoots the mook while he's standing in front of a computer monitor. All we see is the computer monitor behind the mook sparking and fizzing; no blood.
  • Camera Sniper: Terry delivers Jack's message to the British Embassy, but they pretend not to understand it. As she leaves, someone takes her photograph.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The chair next to Jerry's workstation.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Zigzagged for the man in the street who waves back at Terry while she is trapped in the phone booth. Also to some extent the window washer in the same scene.
    • Terry in the police car, thinking the police are rescuing her.
  • Diegetic Switch: Terri trying to make sense of Mick Jagger's lyrics leads to the inevitable Time-Compression Montage to the music of "Jumpin' Jack Flash".
  • Dramatic Spotlight: When Archer confronts Terry at Liz Carlson's vacant house.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The shiny-shoed killer.
  • Foreshadowing: At one point, Marty bursts into Terry's apartment, thinking she's in danger, ready to do kung fu. When he realizes she's okay, he pretends to have hurt himself. He's Jack's friend, and also a government spy.
  • Groin Attack: How Terry disables Talbott at the end, rather graphically, without actually showing anything.
  • Hesitation Equals Dishonesty: Blatantly, when Liz introduces Terry as her cousin.
  • Hollywood Tourette's: Subverted as an excuse for Terry's expletive-laden rant at the police station. Perhaps one of the first places the term was used in popular culture — the speaker has to explain it, and the listener asks someone to look it up.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "Pawn" and "prawn".
  • Knew It All Along: One of Terry's colleagues does this after she explains the meaning of "the skinny".
  • Meaningful Name: "Larry the Heavy-Set Guard."
  • Mistaken for Spies: Both Van Meter and Talbott do this to Terry.
  • Mondegreen Gag: Terry has to write down the lyrics for "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in the days before you could look them up on the internet, and has some difficulty working out what Mick Jagger is singing. (She finally buys the sheet music for the song, which actually gives her the password — the key of the song.)
    "I was raised by two lesbians? [clip] Mick, Mick, Mick...speak English!"
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The scariest moment in the film is when Terry finds a polaroid of herself on Jack's fridge — of her listening to the answering machine a minute ago.
  • Percussive Maintenance On the malfunctioning monitor.
  • Profiling: When Terry goes to the police to report the killing of Van Meter, they refuse to believe her and assume she's drugged out and the reason she was by the docks at night was because she's a prostitute. Subverted when she calls them out on it.
    Terry: What is it with you people? Every time you see a black woman there has to be a pimp or a John? What, do you think there's good business on the pier for hookers? Do you think I'm giving blow jobs down there to goldfish?
  • Refuge in Audacity: In-Universe example: Terry bluffs her way into a government party by dressing up as a Supreme and lip-syncing "You Can't Hurry Love".
    Receptionist: I'm sorry, I can't let you in without an invitation... You look awfully familiar.
    Terry: That's because I'm the entertainment.
  • Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: Justified because Terry has a habit of talking to herself (given that she's socially isolated) and most of the time she's reading out loud what Jack is typing on her screen.
  • Samus Is a Girl: An In-Universe example, as Jack thinks Terry is a man when telling her to get a formal tuxedo for an embassy party (Terry remarks she would need to be in an evening dress). He immediately thinks it's too dangerous for a woman; Terry lets him have it, since she's already in danger, and he reluctantly accedes, and gives her the mission.
  • Shaped Like Itself: The key is the key.
    • This fact comes in handy when Terry is injected with Truth Serum, and asked what the code key is. She says the above, and her interrogator assumes she is talking in circular logic and the serum isn't working.
  • Shown Their Work: The network Terry does her work on is referred to as a "transponder," which means it is a satellite-based network; Jack says he is using a "clamshell terminal," which is basically a simple crude laptop with a satellite transmitter, for communicating in the field. (A similar one is used in Spies Like Us.) It also (sort of, not really) explains why the computers in the bank sometimes pick up Russian television: it's picking up the wrong satellite.
  • Single Malt Vision: After Terry gets drugged, she staggers back in to her job at the bank, still thoroughly stoned. Her boss informs her that she has managed to "shatter the Guinness record for tardiness", to which she replies...
    Terry: *giggles* I'm not gonna say anything. Well, maybe one or two things. C'mere. All six of you, come here!
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Zigzagged while Terry is being towed away.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Terry's (lame, yet effective) bluff on Talbott. It ends up backfiring as she is subsequently Wrongly Accused.
  • Spy Speak: "Dogs barking. Can't fly without umbrella."
  • The Glasses Come Off: Marty. On being revealed to be another secret agent.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Terry gives a scathing one to Lady Sarah, albeit while under the influence of truth serum. It works, as Lady Sarah relents and gets Lord Malcolm to provide a new exit contact for Jack.
  • Thinking Out Loud: Whenever Terry types a message — and until she hears his voice, every time Jack sends one back, after which his messages are Voice Over Letters.
  • The Mole: Talbott.
  • There Are No Coincidences: "Marty" starts at First National Bank shortly after Terry starts communicating with Jack. Marty befriends Terry, and is also present in a lot of cases where Terry is in trouble. It's not a coincidence; he's a CIA spy and is trying to figure out what's going on with Terry and Jack.
  • To the Pain: The bad guys demonstrate on some storefront dummies what they intend doing to Terry.
  • Took A Level In Bad Ass: Subverted with Marty, who suddenly pulls out a handgun and drops a machine-pistol-waving goon. But Marty is really a spy, so he was capable of this all along. Hinted early on when Marty handily disarms Terry attacking him with a tennis racquet, then tries to cover.
  • Truth Serum: Which doesn't quite work, since all it does is make Terry spout Brutal Honesty and ask questions like, "What exactly is martinizing, anyway?"
  • Unseen Pen Pal: Terry Doolittle strikes up an online friendship with Jack, an MI 5 operative who accidentally contacts her work computer, and they fall for each other as she attempts to help him escape from KGB agents. They don't meet face to face (and Jack remains completely unseen) until the last few minutes. Notably, this was the first movie to depict online chatting before it became commonplace a decade or so later.
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Averted until Jack's code key is entered. At which time Terry's hi-res (for 1986) bland amber monochrome spectacularly transforms into a lo-res 16-color display.
  • Wardrobe Malfunction: Averted, but played up when Terry's dress gets caught in a shredder. She desperately holds on to the dress' cups to prevent it. Regardless, her dress does get much shorter as a result.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never do find out if Liz’s husband made it out safe. The last we hear is that he and Jack lost contact and Liz and their kids were whisked off to new identities when they are compromised.
    • Archer Lincoln does tell Terri that 'Harry Carlson is dead.' but we have no way of confirming if that is the truth.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: A truth-serumed Terri rips into Lady Sarah for refusing to help and seemingly caring more about her beauty treatments than saving the life of an old friend. It works and Sarah intervenes with her husband to obtain a new exit path for Jack.
    Terry: No, you're not sorry. You're sad.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Terry infiltrates the party at the British Consulate in a slinky dress and wig that evokes Diana Ross. She poorly attempts a British accent to try to blend in.