Characters that I love #6 – Laurence Fishburne as Jimmy Jump – King of New York (Abel Ferrara, 1990)

“OH MY GOD! THAT’S MY DAUGHTER” exclaimed a distraught George C Scott in Paul Schrader’s magnificent 1979 film Hardcore, upon discovering that his pride and joy had been mixing it with the likes of ‘Big Dick Blaque’ in L.A.’s “entertainment” underworld. In a case of life imitating art, a similar fate recently befell veteran actor Laurence Fishburne when his daughter Montana (or Chippy D, to use her nom de porn) began popping up in underrated gems such as Phattys, Rhymes & Dimes 14. Now if I were Chippy, I would have thought long and hard about casting shame upon my father in such a way, for fear of serious reprisals. Laurence Fishburne, a truly imposing figure, is such a badass that he lied about his age when he was 14 to appear in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

Fishburne has never been more threatening than his performance in Abel Ferrara’s sleazy, neon-lit thriller King of New York, in which he stars as Jimmy Jump, the psychotic, hair-trigger lieutenant of Robin Hood-esque criminal overlord Frank White (a berserk turn from Christopher Walken’s hair, ably supported by Christoper Walken). The contrast to his performance as the straight-backed, stand-up, hectoring father Furious Styles in John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood a year later couldn’t be more marked. Whereas Styles is responsible, hard-working and rather dogmatic, Jimmy Jump has literally no redeeming features whatsoever (unless you count his natty part-Run DMC, part-Clockwork Orange hat). He exists solely to wind people up, then shoot them. In doing so, he steals the whole film.

Replete with gold chains, gold teeth and dressed in black, Fishburne is a textbook hood, and dominates every scene that he’s in, beginning with his first appearance at a fraught drug deal in a posh hotel. He harries the chemist (a young Steve Buscemi) into giving him a sample of the goods, talks rapidly and incessantly, and finally presents a Hispanic coke-peddler with a suitcase full of tampons to plug the bullet holes he’s about to fill him with. Rangy, lanky and constantly on the move, Jump is like a wiry middleweight boxer pepped up with a banned substance.

Later, in one of the film’s most famous sequences, Jump personifies the swaggering arrogance of urban malaise, terrorising a defenceless fast-food shop worker before pulling a hugely unconvincing care-in-the-community stunt in giving a Grandma and her brood some ill-gotten cash.

Just as it seems Jump is going to be given a free pass to run roughshod over everything and everyone, Ferrara presents him with a two-headed nemesis in the form of embittered cops Dennis Gilley (a scenery-chewing David Caruso) and the oddly Irishly-named Tommy Flanigan (a very non-Irish Wesley Snipes), or “Howdy Doody and the Chocolate Wonder”, as Jump hilariously dubs them. Jump doesn’t like Gilley, but he hates Flanigan, homing in on his race at every opportunity. For Jump, Flanigan (married to a white woman, and “only black man here” amongst his cop buddies) is an Uncle Tom, a race-traitor of the highest order, and he taunts him accordingly. Flanigan returns fire, suggesting that Jump is a flunky to White. There is a crackling tension between Jump and Flanigan; they really hate each other’s guts, and their enmity provides an already electric film with an added charge, culminating in an epic final confrontation between the two in a rain-slicked wasteland.

In terms of character development, there isn’t much to speak of. Jimmy Jump begins the film a coked-up, confrontational psycho-antagonist and ends it exactly the same way. At one point, White asks Jump why he never came to visit him in jail. After an awkward silence, Jump simply states “Who wanted to see you in a cage?” It’s impossible to read his face; maybe he didn’t care about White, maybe he really didn’t want to see his employer in captivity. It’s the closest we come to ever seeing a second dimension to Jump, but it doesn’t really matter. Jump just enjoys killing people.

Fishburne plays Jump with such manic intensity that it’s hard to shake him from your mind after the credits roll. Even in the throes of death, he cackles ghoulishly and wriggles around. A stunning performance from an actor the very top of his game, this is one Fishburne that you would not want to fuck with.

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