Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 13, 2004)
Usually when a TV or movie series ďjumps the sharkĒ, very gimmicky events signal that status. The term originates with the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie performed a stunt that made him leap a shark. Some series go to crap without such obvious elements, but not many.
For the Friday the 13th movies, we can identify many gimmicks over the years, but many fans donít think these reached shark-jumping status until 1989ís Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Sure, Part 3 went 3-D, while Part VII added a girl with psychokinetic abilities.
Sending Jason to the Big Apple sounds more desperate. The ďhigh conceptĒ of Manhattan becomes evident from its title. After all those years of terrorizing the small community of Crystal Lake, the forces behind the series decided it was time to take Jasonís show on the road. While moving the action to the Big City may sound like shark-jumping, in this case it actually works, as Part VIII presents one of the better Fridays.
The end of Part VII left Jason (Kane Hodder) at the bottom of Crystal Lake. An electrical shock brings him back to life, and he quickly slays two young adults on a houseboat. He soon stows away on the Lazarus, a cruise ship thatíll take local high school grads on a trek to Manhattan.
Before the ship departs, we meet some of the kids. Rennie (Jensen Daggett) lives with her uncle Charles (Peter Mark Richman) and suffers from some mysterious mental malady that we donít learn about immediately. We do find out the Charles disapproves of her presence on the cruise, even though he supervises it.
Rennieís not the only one on the boat with parent issues. Sean Robertsonís (Scott Reeves) father (Warren Munson) captains the ship and seems to want his boy to follow in his footsteps. Sean appears disinterested and resents his dadís interference and pressure.
As Jason stalks the boat and the body count rises, we get to know a little more about Rennie and the others. We see that she suffers from a fear of the water and has visions of a drowning young Jason (Timothy Burr Mirkovich). The film follows the adult Jasonís attacks and the inevitable attempts to stop those assaults along with whatever connection Rennie shares. Eventually this winds up in New York.
Donít expect a lot from the premise promised in the title. The first 60 percent of the film takes place on the Lazarus, and even when they get to the Big Apple, the action fails to do much to exploit the storyís potential. Jason obsesses over killing the characters from the cruise and passes up scads of opportunities to off the New Yorkers. During the last 15 minutes or so, we get a taste for what the story could have become, but it never starts to fly or give us a broader perspective.
Nonetheless, I must say Iím damned pleased to get a Friday flick set someplace other than the standard lakeside location. It still exists as an excuse to watch Jason slay teenagers in creative ways, but at least it takes them out of the woods. Though the film stretches its concepts to get Jason into a new locale, I donít care; Iím just excited to see a change of scenery.
At least the teens of Manhattan seem more proactive than their forebears. In the other movies, the kids usually remain in denial until the storyís end. Even Tommy in Part VI gets treated like Chicken Little; he tells everyone of Jasonís revival, but they mostly ignore his warnings. A couple of characters behave in that manner here, but most of them take the threat seriously and work actively to stop the psycho.
I get the impression that fans donít much like Manhattan, and it does differ from most of its predecessors. It comes across more like a traditional action-oriented monster movie than a Friday flick, so maybe thatís one problem they find with it. While I kind of like Manhattan, I do see how it doesnít fit well with the rest of the series. Its Jason is smarter and shrewder than in prior flicks and is not just the usual brainless killing machine. This doesnít make much sense, but it makes the movie more entertaining, and given the seriesí general lack of logic and continuity, I donít see a reason to criticize it for this change.
As usual, the characters remain generally ill-defined and one-dimensional. At least this flickís heroine seems more satisfying than usual. Rennie brings a more thoughtful and engaging personality to the table, especially when compared to the shrill Tina from Part VII. Jasonís invincibility causes some problems, though. In most of the earlier films, the stories at least pretended that the participants might stop Jason. That concept doesnít play into the later entries, as it seems patently obvious that nothing can keep him down for the count. This makes the films less satisfying, since we know the ending will be little more than a tease.
I wouldnít call Jason Takes Manhattan a great movie, but itís the most satisfying Friday since Part V. It takes a slightly different approach that comes across as reasonably satisfying. Maybe I liked it just because it came after two terrible entries. Nonetheless, itís generally entertaining.