The soundtrack includes two versions of the song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”: the original by the Rolling Stones, and a remake by Aretha Franklin heard over the end credits. Franklin’s version was not included on the film’s soundtrack album but was released as a single.
Teresa “Terry” Doolittle (Whoopi Goldberg) transfers funds for the First National Bank in Manhattan, New York. She does not quite fit with the bank’s corporate image, despite being a good employee and well-liked by her co-workers. She is often chastised by her no-nonsense boss James Page (Peter Michael Goetz). Set against the backdrop of the pre-Glasnost Cold War, Terry receives the message, “Knock, Knock,” and is contacted by a man calling himself “jumpin’ Jack Flash” who turns out to be a British Intelligence agent in Eastern Europe who is being pursued by the KGB. After being given a riddle for his password, Terry determines the password to be B-flat, after the key in which “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is supposedly written (as the actual song by the Rolling Stones is recorded in the key of B-flat). Jack sends her to the British Consulate to deliver the message “Dog’s barking, can’t fly without umbrella” to Department C. Despite feeling ludicrous, Terry delivers the message to Jeremy Talbot (John Wood) who is apparently puzzled and informs her there is no Department C. Jack then asks her to enter his apartment in New York to retrieve a frying pan, on which are Jack’s CIA contacts to acquire a passport. Meanwhile, Marty Phillips (Stephen Collins) arrives at First National Bank as a new coworker and, unbeknownst to her, Terry is being watched.
A computer technician (Jim Belushi) shows up at the bank to repair her terminal, but when Terry calls Sperry Corporation to confirm his identity, the technician vanishes. As she enters the taxi upon leaving Jack’s apartment, she is frightened to find him as the driver. His plan to abduct her fails when she knocks him out with the frying pan and flees the cab.
Using the contacts on the frying pan, Terry attempts unsuccessfully to contact Peter Caen, but does reach Mark Van Meter (Jeroen Krabbé), who meets her at the docks. After being stunned to realize Terry is a civilian and has no relationship at all with the intelligence community, Van Meter notices they are being watched and pushes Terry off the docks and into the East River to save her life, but is shot and killed himself. The police dismiss Terry’s claim of the murder and Marty comes to the station and takes her home. After finding a listing in the local obituaries, Terry goes to Van Meter’s funeral, where she meets Liz Carlson (Annie Potts), the wife of Harry Carlson, one of Jack’s contacts and another of his contacts, Archer Lincoln (Roscoe Lee Browne). Terry tries to talk to Lincoln, but he leaves before she can. Liz invites Terry back to her home and gives her some information about Jack and her husband. When Terry tells him about the meeting later that night, they both deduce that Harry has been killed. Jack then tells her how to break into the British Consulate central computer. Conning her way in under the guise of an entertainer, she manages to enter the mainframe with help from Liz, who is also there, but Talbot finds and deactivates the computer link before Jack receives a contact. Terry quickly goes to Liz’s house for help, only to find it deserted.
As Terry leaves, she is approached by Archer Lincoln, who informs her that Liz and the children have been relocated and given new identities by the CIA. He then tells Terry to “get off the stage before she gets carried off”. Going through one of Jack’s romantic contacts, Sarah Billings (Sara Botsford), Terry is rebuffed and then captured by the KGB, who lock her in a phone booth and drag her around the city. After escaping when the booth is knocked over, Terry is injected with truth serum by the computer tech, this time posing as a police officer, but escapes after trapping his arm in a car window and rolling the car into traffic. In a drug-induced haze, Terry again locates Sarah and makes an impassioned plea for her help. Sarah tells Terry she would rather let Jack be killed than risk losing face. A disgusted Terry chastises Sarah for her indifference to Jack’s plight and walks out. She then stumbles into work and, after embarrassing Mr. Page by yanking off his hairpiece in front of the entire office, passes out.
Terry awakens at home and is dropped in on by Sarah, who has had a change of heart and gives her a contact. After passing the contact to Jack, she is again captured by the KGB and learns that Talbot is a KGB mole and the contact he provided (via Sarah’s husband, head of MI5) is a setup to kill Jack. After nearly being tortured with a reciprocating saw, Terry escapes and frightens the embassy receptionist into calling the police, who escort her away from Talbot. After realizing the police are unwilling to let her go to warn Jack and are arresting her, Terry blinds the driver and escapes from the crashed police cruiser. She rushes to the bank to warn Jack, but the KGB and Talbot are already there, masquerading as bankers. Terry is ordered to tell Jack nothing’s wrong, but she tricks Talbot into sitting on a chair adjusted for a pregnant employee, causing him to fall over.
One of Talbot’s henchmen opens fire on the office with an Uzi, sending everyone diving for cover. Terry manages to type out her warning about the contact being a setup to Jack, but Talbot grabs her before she can send it and the two begin fighting. Talbot’s other henchman, Carl, grabs Terry and is about to kill her when he is shot by Marty. After Marty shoots the gunman, Terry manages to bite Talbot’s groin and send Jack the message as Talbot collapses, saving him. Marty then reveals to Terry that he is really Peter Caen, one of the CIA contacts on the frying pan, and gives Jack the correct contact to ensure his safe return.
That same evening, Terry arrives at the restaurant where she and Jack had planned to have dinner together, but she becomes despondent when Jack never shows up. As the restaurant is closing, Peter arrives and tells Terry that Jack isn’t coming because of another engagement. Terry is crushed, but Peter comforts her, saying how much Jack wanted to see her. The next morning, Terry’s co-workers are discussing the news that Mr. Page is being promoted and transferred to Silver Springs and that she will be taking over his old position. Terry is still depressed about the night before, but receives a “Knock, Knock” message on her terminal from Jack. Terry berates him for not showing up, even as he tries to placate her with thanks from the Queen. When she slams her glasses down in frustration, Jack advises against it, and Terry realizes he can see her. When he reaches over her shoulder to type on her keyboard, Terry turns and sees Jack (Jonathan Pryce) for the first time. He embraces her, thanking her personally for saving his life and offers to make it up to her by taking her out to dinner again. Terry introduces him to her co-workers, who all greet Jack warmly, including Mr. Page (now sans hairpiece), who now seems to have a newfound respect for Terry. The film ends with Terry and Jack leaving with the entire office applauding and the credits roll.
- Whoopi Goldberg as Teresa “Terry” Doolittle, a well-liked bank employee with a wry attitude toward life
- Jonathan Pryce as “Jack”, a DIS agent trapped in an unnamed Eastern Bloc country
- Stephen Collins as Marty Phillips, also known as Peter Caen, a CIA agent that has gone undercover as a new employee at First National Bank
- John Wood as Jeremy Talbot, a KGB sleeper agent who works undercover at the British Consulate in New York City
- Jeroen Krabbé as Mark Van Meter
- Jim Belushi as Sperry Repairman / Furious Cab Driver / Injured Cop
- Sara Botsford as Lady Sarah Billings, one of Jack’s romantic contacts
- Peter Michael Goetz as James Page, the manager of First National Bank and Terry’s boss
- Vyto Ruginis as Carl, KGB agent
- Carol Kane as Cynthia, a co-worker and friend of Terry’s at First National Bank
- Jon Lovitz as Doug, a co-worker and friend of Terry’s at First National Bank
- Lynne Marie Stewart as Karen, a co-worker and friend of Terry’s at First National Bank
- Phil Hartman (credited as Phil E. Hartmann) as Fred, a co-worker and friend of Terry’s at First National Bank
- Tracey Ullman as Fiona
- Michael McKean as Leslie
- Annie Potts as Elizabeth Carlson, wife of Harry Carlson, another CIA agent and longtime friend of Jack
- Chino ‘Fats’ Williams as Larry, the bank’s security guard and friend of Terry. Often referred to as “Larry, the Heavy set Guard” by Mr. Page
- Tracy Reiner as Lisa, Mr. Page’s secretary
- June Chadwick as Gillian, receptionist at the British Consulate.
Production of the film, originally conceived as a vehicle for Shelley Long, was problematic. The script was troubled and would often be rewritten on the set. It began with Howard Zieff as director. However, he was replaced early in the production by Penny Marshall.
The soundtrack album was released on LP and cassette by Mercury Records, and later reissued on compact disc by Spectrum.
- “Set Me Free” – The Pointer Sisters (4:23)
- “A Trick of the Night” – Bananarama” (4:37)
- “Misled” – Kool & the Gang (4:21)
- “Rescue Me” – Gwen Guthrie (4:32)
- “Hold On – Billy Branigan (4:04)
- “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – The Rolling Stones (3:37)
- “Window to the World” – Face to Face (3:21)
- “You Can’t Hurry Love” – The Supremes (2:44)
- “Breaking the Code” – Thomas Newman (3:41)
- “Love Music” – Thomas Newman (2:47)
The original versions of “Set Me Free” (by the Pointer Sisters) and “Rescue Me” (by Fontella Bass) are heard in the film, rather than the covers on the soundtrack album.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash received generally negative reviews from critics upon its release. Roger Ebert of for the Chicago Sun-Times liked Goldberg’s performance but felt that she was harnessed to “an exhausted screenplay—an anthology of old ideas and worn-out clichés.” Vincent Canby of The New York Times blamed the failures of the film on its director, stating, “Miss Marshall directs Jumpin’ Jack Flash as if she were more worried about the decor than the effect of the performance.” It currently holds an approval rating of 26% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews.
Even though it was not well-received by critics, the film was a modest success at the box office, opening at the #3 spot and making nearly $30 million in domestic sales.