Bullet Points: Land of the Free
Jeff Speakman made a splash in the world of action entertainment with his starring role in 1991’s The Perfect Weapon. The Perfect Weapon should have been Speakman’s Bloodsport, a movie that would be a springboard for all of his future success. But for whatever reason, Speakman’s career never had a huge amount of momentum. One could argue that Speakman peaked early with The Perfect Weapon. I believe Street Knight was a solid sophomore effort in 1993, but after that things slowed down in a hurry for Speakman.
Speakman was still acting, but it was in movies I had never heard of until I started writing for this site. Movies like Deadly Outbreak with Ron Silver, The Expert with James Brolin and the subject of this review, 1998’s Land of the Free with William Shatner.
- In The Line of Fire: As the movie begins we see a political rally for Aidan Carvell (William Shatner). Carvell is running for a spot in the United States Senate. Carvell is a successful businessman (he runs his own ad agency) and author. In fact it was his best selling book Land of the Free that allowed him to cross over into the world of politics in the first place. Like any politician or citizen running for office, Carvell does have his share of detractors, but as Carvell was wrapping up his speech, a guy in the crowd pulls a gun and takes a shot at Carvell. Frank Jennings (Jeff Speakman) immediately springs into action, with Matt McCaster (Charles Robinson of Night Court fame) following closely behind. This foot chase leads to all sorts of trouble, especially with the pursuer and pursued running in traffic causing a major accident along the way. The chase ends when McCaster puts a bullet in the would be assassin. Now at this point I’m thinking McCaster and Jennings must be Carvell’s security detail. Well I was half right, Matt McCaster is Carvell’s security chief, but Jennings (a former NAVY man) is actually Carvell’s campaign manager. How many campaign managers would run after a guy with a gun?
- All The Senator’s Men: Before Carvell can name Frank Jennings his Employee of the Month, Carvell is approached by some FBI guys in a parking garage. The feds drop a bombshell on Jennings… his boss Carvell is a front for a powerful militia that is looking to take America back. The FBI does not have enough evidence to bring Carvell to trial for these treasonous acts so they ask Jennings to be their eyes and ears on the inside. Jennings is caught snooping around by McCaster and this ends in a very ugly end to the business relationship between Carvell and Jennings.
- Witless Protection: Things get even worse between Carvell and Jennings, once Jennings agrees to testify against Carvell. Fearing for the safety of his wife Annie (Lisa Darr) and son Randy (played by the unfortunately named Cody Dorkin) after Carvell orders the Jennings family dog to be hung from a tree outside their home, Frank Jennings agrees to put the whole family into the witness protection program. But this turns out to be the worst witness protection in action movie history and that is saying something. The agent in charge of keeping the Jennings family safe Agent Thornton (Chris Lemmon of Thunder in Paradise fame) is on Carvell’s payroll and after a failed home invasion orchestrated by Thornton goes awry, The Jennings Family find themselves on the run. And what better getaway vehicle than a big yellow school bus?!?!
- Army of One: From the moment The Jennings Family board that school bus, the action in Land of the Free picks up with some quality vehicular mayhem. But the on screen fun for the audience, does not come without a price for our protagonists. Both Annie and Randy are badly injured and hospitalized after the bus flips over. The good news in all this is at the hospital Frank knows they will be constantly monitored and safe. This frees up Frank to become a one many army and instead of running from Carvell, he decides to confront Carvell at his home… this leads to our final showdown and while I don’t want to spoil things and say there is a pretty spectacular exploding helicopter scene involved, I’m not going to deny that there could be a pretty spectacular exploding helicopter scene in the movie either.
Land of the Free was a quality vehicle for Jeff Speakman and it is a shame that it flew under the radar like much of Speakman’s post-Street Knight work. Speakman as a dad and husband was perfect, because on the surface Speakman looks like an average guy and not some larger than life personality like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite his average appearance, Speakman delivers the action and then some making him equally believable as the “bad guy ass kicker” and as “the guy next door”. Shatner is Shatner and that makes for an intriguing and entertaining villain. Seriously, if anybody else other than William Shatner played the role of Aidan Carvell, I’m not sure this movie would have worked.
When ending a review on this site, one thing that always works is some Bonus Bullet Points…
- If You Ever: …wanted to see Jeff Speakman headbutt Mac from Night Court then this is the movie for you.
- Rated R: I’m convinced the character of Fitzpatrick, an old Navy buddy of Frank Jennings, was added just so the movie could feature a love making scene featuring nudity between Fitz and some unidentified woman. I guess PM Entertainment figured if the movie was going to be rated R anyway they may as well throw in some sex.
- Die Hard Playbook: Frank Jennings uses a fire hose to escape from the roof of Carvell’s office building not unlike John McClane in Die Hard.
- Familiar Faces: Land of the Free is a land of familiar faces… Gary Carlos Cervantes of Commando fame plays the Grand Jury Foreman during Carvell’s trial… Bernie Kopell from The Cutter plays a TV reporter that interviews Carvell. Who knew Doc from The Love Boat was in multiple action flicks?… Rance Howard plays the hotel manager. You may remember Rance from Forced to Kill or just about any movie directed by Michael Worth… Don Stroud makes an uncredited appearance as a guy who really, really, really wanted to go blow up Aidan Carvell’s house with Frank Jennings.
- Campaign Slogan: “My triumph is your triumph.”