Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: Crackerjack

Oh Die Hard, what hath ye wrought?

Crackerjack tells the timeless tale of a gang of terrorists being outmaneuvered and eventually defeated by a lone Cop on the Edge—our titular "Crackerjack," Jack Wild (I can't decide which of the character's names is more ridiculous). Crackerjack makes for a cracking dull protagonist as portrayed by Thomas Ian Griffith, whose career seems predominantly defined by soaps. (The hair is kind of a dead giveaway.)

The setup is that McClane Crackerjack has come to L.A. Colorado from New York Chicago for a vacation with his estranged wife brother's family. His nemesis is a smiling East German terrorist played by Alan Rickman Christopher Plummer. They engage in spirited banter and taunting over walkie-talkies while the L.A.P.D. Marines (who initially don't trust our hero when he calls them from inside Nakatomi Tower the ski lodge) bungle an attempt to save the hostages. In the end, not even the villain's long-haired assault-weapon-wielding male models can save him from defeat.

If MST3K were still on, this would belong on it. The performances are continually laughable, the plot is dumb without being agonizingly slow, the corny synth score actually sounds lifted from Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders, and the superfluous nudity would be easily edited out.

I've seen a lot of these Die Hard clones, and what a lot of them have in common is a way of making you realize just how much subtlety and restraint Die Hard had by contrast. I guess Crackerjack's creators figured that giving their hero a tragic past and a tendency to punch his own brother would distinguish him from John McClane, and also let's tack on a love interest (Nastassja Kinski, looking vaguely uncomfortable) in the hope of making him seem appealing.

No such luck. Our leading man, Griffith, not only lacks the easy charisma you need to pull off action-movie one-liners (not that he doesn't try), but he has an unfortunate facial disorder whereby his pained grimaces are indistinguishable from his smiles of genuine pleasure. Thus, his expression during flirting scenes, hostages-getting-killed scenes, grim-determined-summary-execution scenes, and peeping scenes never appears to change. Had our director (Michael Mazo, Time Runner) paid attention, he might have advised Griffith that a righteous scowl could be a performance choice more suited to him during those moments where a happy grin seems like an editing mistake.

Speaking of things that seem like editing mistakes, why does Crackerjack have a partner? He's instrumental in the opening scenes (whose sole purpose is to demonstrate the "on the Edge" part of our protagonist Cop), but the only other time we see him is much later, in one of the two gratuitous-toplessness scenes, wherein he gets a phone call somehow explaining Crackerjack's ski-resort predicament. He then says "Aw shit" and he's gone from the film entirely. Likewise, there's a pair of mafioso characters who get more screen time than the love interest, then die and affect the plot in no way whatsoever. I am smiling with incomprehension.

The climax does not disappoint in the What the Christ Were They Thinking department. See, the villain—who's a neo-Nazi, by the way, I guess because he's German—wants to steal some diamonds, but to do so he has to set over forty explosive charges on the nearby glacier and cause it to slide down the mountain, thereby obliterating the chalet and all evidence of his crime. (Needlessly elaborate, yes, but keep in mind he…um…well, moving on.)

Now, I'm no glaciologist. Never claimed to be one. Truly, if someone gave you the idea I'm a glaciologist, I'm afraid you've been misled. But it seems to me that when our heroes escape into the subterranean hot spring that looks like a Deep Space Nine set? THE WEIGHT OF THE GLACIER SHOULD GRIND THEM INTO FINE PASTE. I would have given this movie five stars if that actually happened. Instead, we're treated to an overlong "Ahh, for fun" coda, complete with the kiss none of us wanted to see. You'll recoil in smiling horror.

But there's something else. Throughout Crackerjack I was haunted by the vague sense that this movie sucked in a particular way that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Pedestrian, forced, formulaic, unengrossing, implausible…yes, all that, but something undefinably unusual about its aesthetic was underlying all this. To put it another way, shitty action movies starring Van Damme or Brian Bosworth or whoever are going to suck in similar ways, yet Crackerjack had an entirely different feel, despite surface similarities. Almost as if it were…Canadian, as I would finally learn during the credits. And it explained so much: the peculiar mingling of sincerity and weaksauce, the weird music (have you LISTENED to a Canadian radio station?), and the willingness of name actors to be in it—it was shot in Vancouver, and hell yes I'd be in your shitty Die Hard rip-off if it means you'll bankroll my stay in Vancouver.

I could go on, but I must save some of the laughable fun for you to discover yourself. And I guess if you really get into Christopher Plummer chewing scenery, you might genuinely enjoy this to some degree. (A couple of times he does this kinda funny thing where, rather than ranting about the incompetence of others, he softly murmurs a monosyllabic insult at no one in particular, e.g. "Fool." I kept waiting for a "schwein," but alas, none.) And if you see Crackerjack, whether your response is gasping hilarity or profound sorrow or post-traumatic shock, I can promise it'll leave you with a smile.

Star Score: 1.5 out of 5

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