Starring Adrien (The Village) Brody, Keira (Pirates of the Caribbean) Knightley, Kris (the Blade trilogy) Kristofferson
Directed by Johny Maybury
After noticing some vague on-line tidbits about the new sci-fi/thriller The Jacket, I have to admit I was looking forward to grabbing a sneak peek of it at Sundance. Every piece of news about it so far has gone out of its way to not give away too many details. All I knew to expect was a hip, stylish, mind-bender of an indie. After waiting two hours in the standby line with a cold tent full of fellow curious movie freaks, I finally sat down to check out the one movie I knew the least about, just waiting to uncover some hidden treasure in a snowy season of lackluster genre movies. After all, it’s at Sundance. It’s gotta be good, right?
Unfortunately the only thing mind-bending about this movie is how so many talented actors and gifted filmmakers with so much money could misfire this badly. We have Clooney and Soderbergh producing. A director with a few good films under his belt who brings on Peter Deming (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive) to photograph it. Brian Eno mixes up a nice score. And then there’s the cast. A nice little collection of some seriously talented people. Give them $28 million, wind them all up and out comes a good little movie, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong. That’s what twelve (count them, twelve!) producers fell for and now we’re all left with The Jacket, a dumbed down, sloppy, thrown together flick that will probably still make its money back, guaranteeing everyone some job security at the studio so they can turn around and make more bad movies.
It starts off with some real promise. It’s the Gulf War and Brody’s stumbling around the desert with some other soldiers. It’s dreamy and it has a nice music video feel to it. Then he’s shot it in the head. But wait…Insert cool little voice-over. Insert intense music video montage. Cut to the future and Brody helps out a little girl and her drunken mom with a broken down truck. Not making much sense so far, but everything has a nice moody feel to it. Visuals are great. You feel like you’re about to settle in to a confident piece of mind-screwing movie making.
If you can rent the opening ten minutes alone on video, I’d say go for it. Unfortunately we live in an age where experimental shorts don’t do much business, so they tack on another 90 minutes of stupidity, blackmail the Sundance programmers, and call it a day.
Brad Renfro shows up for about 60 seconds, then disappears. Somewhere along the line, Brody winds up in a mental institution. They try to mimic a bunch of scenes from Girl, Interrupted. Insert crazy comrade (Daniel Craig doing a restrained Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys) and then Kristofferson shows up looking for a paycheck. Just when you think Whistler might be able to get us back on track, he gives us a courtesy flush and shows us a glimpse of what a cool movie this could have been.
He’s a doctor (aka “bad guy”) at the loony bin and his secret, experimental treatment is to throw the real crazy ones in a straight jacket, then seal them up in a morgue drawer in the basement for a few hours. Just to make it even more sinister, he injects them with some anti-crazy drug and tries to “hallucinate” the crazy out of them.
The “inside the drawer” scenes are some of the very limited perks of this mess. Great sound design and cool visual effects provide some very intense and genuinely frightening flashes inside Brody’s head. But don’t worry. Just when you think this movie might get good again, Brody gets transported to…the future. He pops up in the middle of nowhere in an alternate futuristic reality where girls like Keira Knightley get hired to play a strung-out, alcoholic, depressed chick. She invites him home and he finds out she’s actually the little girl from the side of the road. And just when you realize that none of it makes sense…he’s back in he drawer in the crazy bin. All of a sudden, waiting in that movie line in the snow for two hours starts looking more appealing, but there’s still another hour…
We basically repeat this series of events with varying levels of stupidity until we reach the 90 minute mark. Brody finds out he’s going to die next week, and he needs her help to find out how. Obligatory sex scene (though one of the worst in recent memory). More crazy drawer scenes. Five more seconds of Brad Renfro and Brody somehow traces all this back to…the Gulf War or something…oh yeah, and Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a doctor who cures her toughest patient with the help of Brody’s time traveling.
What’s truly frustrating about this whole mess is the potential it had for greatness. Kristofferson. Time travel. Strait jackets. Competent artists on both sides of the camera. What more do you need? The answer to that question is: A SCRIPT. Or more precisely, a script that doesn’t just stuff its face with similar movies from the past only to vomit up the bad parts onto a shaky (and I mean SHAKY) premise. And the screenwriters actually found a way to do the impossible: take a movie with no real coherent plot and somehow make it predictable. They seem to think that none of us have ever seen 12 Monkeys or La Jetee or Back to the Future or any movie that ever had a scene in a mental hospital. They became so preoccupied with the conundrums of time travel, they forgot we already have a handful of decent films about it and so they rehash the same ideas, yet somehow make them worse.
Fortunately for the football team sized staff of producers involved, they have a tool called a “trailer”. They take out all the good parts previously mentioned, chop it up nice and sweet and they get you excited to pay money to go see how they managed ruin the rest of it.
A few good points to mention, though. A small handful of cool scenes. Some very creepy shots. And it also SOUNDS great. I actually left the theater feeling like I heard a good movie. The effects and the overall mix are perfect for Brody’s state of mind and that’s what actually provides most of the tension for his fits of craziness. The good news is, all of these things can be found entirely by watching the trailer without wasting any time or money on the rest of it.
If it’s on TBS on a Sunday afternoon and you’re hungover, go ahead and leave it on while you do dishes or something. Otherwise, turn this slop down and maybe some executive somewhere will try reading the next script before green lighting it. If we keep paying money to see junk, they’re going to keep making junk…
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