With Carl Weathers newsworthy again by landing a part in The Mandalorian, I was reminded that I’ve always liked this actor, ever since seeing him in Rocky.
The fact is Carl Weathers was tremendous as Apollo Creed. He’s half the reason both Rocky and Rocky II are as good as they are.
I was six years old when I saw first saw Rocky and this guy got me nervous. It was the first time I felt butterflies while watching a movie.
And this isn’t Harry Knowlesish bullshit. I remember seeing that film at that age.
The next year I saw Star Wars.
The first time I saw it, I couldn’t remember a thing about it afterward, other than C3PO and R2-D2 walking through the blaster fire.
That made me laugh. I probably fell asleep, child that I was.
But I remembered nearly everything about Rocky.
- Ice Skating.
- Burt Young throwing a turkey out the window. (What kid doesn’t want to do that?)
- Burgess Meredith, The Penguin himself, screaming at Rocky.
- Rocky drinking raw eggs.
- Rocky running with a dog.
- ·Gonna Fly Now!
And most importantly, I thought Rocky was going to get killed by Creed.
Even at that age, I had a few run-ins with neighborhood bullies. And this skinny little towhead with an uneven Dutch boy haircut didn’t have the stuff.
So when Rocky connected with Apollo’s ribs, I got such an adrenaline rush, I couldn’t even speak. I couldn’t even clap properly. I was like some idiot mute making unintelligible noises.
That was the first time a movie did that to me. I grew out of it by the time Rocky III rolled around. But you don’t forget powerful emotions like that.
I couldn’t articulate this at the time, but a hero’s only as good as his villain, and Mr. Weathers more than rose to the occasion. He was intelligent, egotistical and fearsome.
In my mind, Apollo Creed was more intense and imposing than Muhammad Ali himself, the fighter he was loosely based on.
But like so many other actors who turn in bold, career-making performances, Mr. Weathers got typecast.
Maybe at that point in time, casting directors didn’t know what to do with a dynamic, leading man handsome, intelligent black man. Maybe he was being offered nothing but scripts where he was saying, “You JIVE Turkey!”
Maybe he was lazy and content to cash in on Rocky.
Maybe he’s just too nice a guy. I’ve seen interviews with him and he always seems personable and intelligent. Maybe too intelligent for Hollywood.
I don’t know.
But I always felt that after Rocky he was either being stifled or holding back.
He showed up in Force 10 From Navarone with Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw with nothing much to do. And aside from Rocky movies, he was nowhere to be found.
Then he did Predator in ’87 where he was memorable, of course, but not all that essential in the grand scheme of the movie.
He’s the government-controlled butthole. Not the guy who says, “I don’t have time to bleed.”
Even Bill Duke had a better part.
And seriously, where was he when they were casting Deep Space Nine? Surely he would have been better than Avery Brooks.
I know there are fans out there, but Avery Brooks playing Dr. No in the DS9 episode “Our Man Bashir” was so college-theater amateurish, I gave up watching the show for good. I hate actors who just rely on their voice.
Weathers had the voice AND the personality to be a great commander.
At any rate in 1988, Mr. Weathers finally got his big chance to shine with Action Jackson, a Joel Silver-produced, quasi-blacksploitation, full-tilt action movie.
The reviews were bad and the trailers looked like nothing much.
Plus, at the time I kind of hated Craig T. Nelson because of All The Right Moves. I hate dick coaches. Those things matter at that age.
So I didn’t see it in the theater.
I rented it on VHS after Die Hard came out and changed the landscape of action movies forever and I dismissed it.
There were two things I remembered about Action Jackson:
Other than that, it seemed to me that it was cheesy and TV-ish.
Like a Black T.J. Hooker.
And my overriding feeling about the film was that it was a waste of Carl Weathers.
He seemed dull and stiff, with none of his Apollo Creed swagger.
Plus the film did not deliver on the promise of this:
Cut To Present Day
For reasons I can’t explain, I found myself watching it again on Amazon Prime.
And I have to admit, while it’s still a giant pile of crap story-wise — the dialogue is the sole driver of the plot, always a bad sign — something-something about Craig T. Nelson’s bad guy industrialist character wanting ultimate power by killing all the Auto-worker Union bosses.
Ha! Them’s were the days!
I still couldn’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia for a near-forgotten era of action movies where both Vanity and Sharon Stone had to gratuitously show their boobies as part of their contracts, where a car driving up a flight of stairs was considered a showstopper and where the hero was still a man and a decent, nice one at that, and not a mumbling, cliché-spewing idiot anti-hero like say, oh, Vin Diesel or Jason Statham.
And I also got a kick out of the cast, basically a Lethal Weapon / Predator / Die Hard / Silver Pictures reunion party with both Sharon Stone and Thomas F. Wilson thrown in for good measure.
The memorable names/faces include:
That said, not only was my original feeling correct that Carl Weathers was too tame in the role and, heck, kind of boring as Jericho “Action” Jackson, the subtext of the film is all about a guy who didn’t reach his full potential.
The film and character is quite literally a meta-commentary about Carl Weather’s career at that point. Several characters comment on the fact that Action Jackson could’ve been somebody.
And Weathers just sits there and glumly takes it!
A film in line with Carl Weathers’ personality and the blacksploitation vibe, in general, should’ve turned that notion on its ear.
You could’ve been somebody. Now you’re just yesterday’s news.
Baby, my best days are ahead of me! Mark your calendars. From now on, today will be commemorated as “National Action Jackson Beat Yo’ Ass Day!”
With both Weathers/Action failing to respond, it just punctuates the film as the big missed opportunity of his this talented actor’s 50-year career.
He Should Have Been Huge
As big as Sly.
Apparently, Action Jackson has its following, but I would say that’s based on what could have been, not the film that is.
The film that is is an 80s slog with sporadic interest, again, namely in the character actors popping up.
Without getting into Mr. Weather’s forays into comedy — which are funny and memorable, yet still the work of an actor who could’ve done more — I can only hope that Jon Favreau, who is sort of a nice-guy populist Tarantino at seeing the potential in underrated actors, gives Carl Weathers something to showcase his immense talent in The Mandalorian.
One can hope.