Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Completist Guide to the Crackerjack series (1994-2000)

Crackerjack (1994)

What the hell is Crackerjack you may well ask? Well, it's probably the most obscure and unnecessary franchises I've reviewed to date but stick with me because there's some fun to be had. The first thing you need to know is it was one of the few leading roles for Thomas Ian Griffith. Don't remember him? He was Terry Silver, the bad guy in Karate Kid Part III. You know the ponytailed rich guy who teamed up with Martin Kove to humiliate Daniel-san. Yeah, he was a bit of d*ck in that role but after that he tried to make a name for himself as the next Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal. His first attempt was 1992's Excessive Force, where he played a cop who liked to use... wait for it... excessive force taking down Mafia guys. And then he had to take on corrupt cops who wanted to kill him. It didn't make much of hit at the cinema despite boasting Lance Henriksen, Tony Todd and James Earl Jones as supporting cast and so Griffith went back to the drawing board trying to nail a perfect action role.

Crackerjack came out in 1994 direct to video. In it Griffith plays Jack Wild (great name) a maverick cop who is recovering from the deaths of his wife and child who were murdered by a car bomb. Jack is ordered by his captain to take time off to recover so his sister and her husband drag him along to a ski resort they were going to for a holiday. However, not long after they arrive, the place is taken over by a group of Euro terrorists led by Ivan Getz (Christopher Plummer). Jack manages to escape their notice and together with one of the employees Katia (Nastassja Kinski) sets about putting a stop to their mysterious plan which involves stealing some diamonds before setting off an avalanche to cover their tracks.

Yep, it's the old Die Hard formula back at work. Lone cop against a group of terrorists. A fly in the ointment. A spanner in the works. A... okay I've run out of metaphors. Thomas Ian Griffith is actually not too bad as Wild. He's got a certain modicum of charisma but nothing star worthy. The problem here is he starts the film off basically in a giant strop over his dead wife, and though that makes a lot of emotional sense for the character it's a real chore to sit through. What the makers don't seem to have realised is that what made Die Hard so special was that John McClane took quite a breezy attitude to the task of killing Hans and his terrorist buddies. Despite the fact he had glass embedded in both his feet he could still make quips out of nonsensical sh*t like "Yippie-Kay-Yay."

So, Christopher Plummer plays the main bad guy. I'll say that again Christopher Plummer plays the main bad guy! That's absolutely crazy considering his acting pedigree but I guess he just needed the money and got a free holiday by doing the film. Bear in mind that Plummer once said that he thought The Sound of Music was "more like The Sound of Mucus". God knows what he would say about this film because The Sound of Music won 5 Oscars while Crackerjack, as far as I know, won none. I think Alan Rickman opened a lot of doors for respected actors to slum it in silly action movies. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I guess for fans of action films like me it's good because there's nothing worse than a poorly acted bad guy. I wouldn't say that Plummer really revels in his bad guy role but then it's probably a bit harder for Plummer than it was for Rickman because they make him a crazy German who likes to quote Mein Kampf!

If anyone is on total autopilot for this film it's Nastassja Kinski. Like Plummer she must have done this for the free holiday. It's crazy to think that the same year as this she did the massively underrated Terminal Velocity with Charlie Sheen on the big screen. She plays one of the hotel employees who is mainly there to kiss grumpy Jack Wild at the end and point out a secret entrance in and out of the hotel via an underwater cave tunnel thingy. What the film really needed was more hand to hand fighting. Despite Griffith being a decent martial artist he barely gets in a kick or punch. And later on gets shot and has to hobble everywhere. Also, despite the fact he steals one of terrorists walkie talkies (seriously, how did the makers of Die Hard not sue hard) he fails to make any memorable banter with Plummer's head bad guy.

One thing I really disliked about the film was the insanely lucky twist at the end. I won't spoil it but... no actually I will spoil it. Plummer turns out to also just happen to be the one who ordered the hit on Jack's wife! It's pure coincidence that he happens to try and blow up the ski resort that Wild has gone to recuperate. I hate stupid coincidences like this in movies. I would have probably been okay if Jack had done a quip about it being "a small world" but it never happens. Oh well, all in all this a passable movie that probably only of interest to TIG (Thomas Ian Griffith) fans.


Crackerjack 2 (1997)

Now sadly Griffith didn't return for the sequel that came out in 1997. I guess he was too busy playing the bad guy opposite 1) Kevin Sorbo in Kull the Conqueror and 2) James Woods in John Carpenter's Vampires. For a second there it almost looked like he might carve out a decent career playing villains in Hollywood movies but unfortunately those roles quickly dried up. In surely one of the cruelest bits of recasting in history he was replaced for Crackerjack 2 by Judge Reinhold. Yeah, that Judge Reinhold, from Beverley Hills Cop, Vice Versa and those Santa Clause movies with Tim Allen. Once again Crackerjack 2 went direct to video, and in some territories they renamed it the generic sounding Hostage Train.

In this installment Jack has got a new girlfriend and has pretty much gotten over the death of his wife and kid (bar a flashback or two ripped from the original film). However, no sooner are we introduced to her than she boards a train that gets taken over by terrorists. But wait, just as you think you're in for an Under Siege 2/Derailed rip-off the train stops inside a tunnel and the terrorists, led by the enigmantic Smith (Michael Sarrazin), hold everyone hostage in a underground bunker hidden in the mountain. Jack springs into action to save the hostages by sneaking inside this supposedly impenetrable bunker and sets about ruining the terrorists' plans... again.

I'll be honest I appreciate the fact that Reinhold dyed his blonde hair black to make himself look a little more like Griffith. He also puts on a gravely voice to make himself sound tougher. I'd like to think Christian Bale watched this film just before he went to audition for Batman Begins but I can't confirm it. It's nice that they went to the extra effort of adjusting Reinhold's look. Other direct to video sequels haven't been so fastidious. Darkman II and III for instance swap out Liam Neeson, a Brit with hair, for Arnold Vosloo, a balding South African! Reinhold also tries to inject a bit of humour here and there. It's to be expected I guess as I think most people recognise him primarily as a semi-comedic actor.

Despite that, Reinhold's actually a pretty good badass in this film and some of the take down techniques he uses on the bad guys are pretty cool. Early in the film Jack is using a computer and spots, reflected in the screen, an assassin coming from behind to do a stealth attack so he chucks his cup of coffee over his shoulder to blind him (see right). Sadly, the rest of the film doesn't live up to these few great moments. I can't help but feel they should have kept more of the action on the train. The bunker is such a boring and cheap set. The director tries to liven things up by using lots of explosions, floods and miniatures but it can't hide the somewhat lifeless energy of the film.

Now, you know how I was saying earlier in this entry about hating coincidences in films. Well, this film has another massive coincidence (as well as a retcon). It turns out that Smith's German right-hand man Hans Becker (Karel Roden - aka Rasputin in Hellboy) was actually the one who blew up Jack's wife! Come on! You're pushing the realms of coincidence now. Not only does Jack find himself caught up in two separate terrorist situations, both times he runs into two criminals who were connected to his wife's death. I'm not a mathematician but I'm betting those odds are bigger than an lottery on the planet. I'll forgive them slightly because Roden makes a pretty good terrorist. I don't think you can have a terrorist organisation in a movie without having at least one German.

I've got to say that even though this is a terrible movie but I am glad I've seen it. There's very few movies that have Judge Reinhold doing so much fighting (and on one occasion he's in his underpants! - see right - hope you're digging these gifs). The fact is I'm a collector of movies and Judge Reinhold in an action film is the equivalent of Astatine (that's the rarest thing on the planet according to Yahoo answers in case you're wondering). I mean what's next? Steve Guttenberg playing a tough guy Special Ops soldier going up against a villain played by Sean Bean who is trying to release an airborne virus? Wait, what that one does exist? Holy sh*t. Where the hell can I get this? Airborne (1998)


Crackerjack 3 (2000)

Okay, now this film has one of those things that really p*sses me off about certain sequels. You can't call a film Crackerjack 3 if there's no connection to the other films in the series. In both the original and the sequel the title was clearly referring Jack Wild (Thomas Ian Griffith/Judge Reinhold) a wild and unpredictable maverick cop. Here we have a retired spy character called Jack Thorn (played by Bo Svenson) who we've never met before. Damn you director Lloyd A Simandl you've tricked me in to watching your crappy movie! Now you might tell me to stop being naive, lots of other sequels dispense of all their previous cast, BUT the DVD front cover boasts the tagline "Bad guys beware: Jack's back". Where's Jack back from? I've never met him before. Back from the bathroom? Back from holiday? Also, that colon should surely be an exclamation mark?

Anyway, so Jack Thorn works for some US government spy agency behind a desk. It's his last day at work before he retires and asshole Marcus Clay (Oliver Gruner) takes over his job. However, literally the second he walks out the door all hell breaks loose. Someone's stolen a nuke and killed off several of Jack's friends around the world. Jack heads up to his remote cabin for some fishing completely unawares of all this until some assassins start coming after him too! Quickly deducing that he's going to be the made the scapegoat when the nuke goes off he co-opts a few of his spy buddies to save the day. But given that they are all pretty much over 60 years old will they manage to complete the mission without having a heart attack or two?

I guess I've got to give this film a speck of praise of coming up with the cool concept of OAP action heroes a good ten years before RED and The Expendables but the film still managed to be one of the most unwatchable pieces of crud I've ever sat through. The main problem is that the whole film has such an eye-clawingly slow pace in every aspect. Scenes are edited with long gaps between bits of dialogue and all the characters speak rea...ll...y Luckily I was able to counteract some of this by playing the DVD on my PS3 which has a handy fast forward button that speeds everything up one and half times as fast but still allows you to hear the dialogue. While I was watching this all speed up I also noticed that the Casio keyboard tunes they were trying to pass off as music also seemed to have been slowed down... deliberately.

Much like the first sequel they try to inject this film with some bits of humour here and there but again it's almost all painfully unfunny. For instance, there's a bit where Jack has captured an assassin and all his spy buddies try to scare the guy into revealing his boss' plan by threatening to use various drugs and torture methods. Later on we learn that they did use all these drugs. I don't know why but that just seemed kind of cruel. How did they know that using all these drugs simultaneously wouldn't cause a brain embolism or something. As much as I like stupid action films I like the Geneva Convention as well. Also, there's a silly bit where the gang try to sneak into a well guarded mansion by posing as gardeners with a giant gnomes.

One of the worst bits of comedy in the whole film is a running gag that Jack doesn't know how to use a mobile phone. His assistant gives him one as a leaving present. Firstly, what kind of leaving present is that? I usually get people like a bottle of wine and card. Anyway, his assistant tries to call him later in the film to warn him about the assassins and he can't figure out how to answer the phone!!?? You press the green button, what is so hard? And then later in the film he's seen reading the instruction manual and at the end he somehow rewires his phone to hotwire a keycard entry lock. What the hell? The writer of this can't have ever used a phone before because I'm pretty sure even an iPhone 4S DL X1.4 can't do that.

The most egregious problem with the film is the lack of action. Everyone's old so there's very little fighting beyond Jack and Clay having a little tussle at the end. Gruner must have been very embarrassed filming these scenes because he's actually a fairly good martial artist and yet he gets beaten up by Svenson and doesn't even get a single punch or kick in. One bright spot is that it is quite hilarious in places how cheap and inept the film is. In one part Gruner is in his open plan office and tells "Everyone. Start looking for Jack" which doesn't sound that funny but he's only in a room with two other people. And he isn't even facing them! Clearly the script called for a large room of operatives but they could only afford a small one with two extras. Mwahahaha.

I guess you could say I'm being pretty harsh on this film but there is a reason. This film somehow has a 6.1 on imdb. How it got that I don't know. Maybe Lloyd A Simandl has got all his friends and family to log on a boost the rating. Well, this shouldn't go unnoticed. I implore everyone to watch this terrible, terrible movie solely so that they can go online and get that rating down.


Now, as a bonus treat for reading about such a terrible trilogy of Die Hard rip-offs here's something to make it all worth your while.


  1. Excellent write-ups! Thought Crackerjack 1 was a lot of fun.

    Will have to check out part 2 with Reinhold!

  2. Thanks Ty. Yeah, everyone needs to see Crackerjack 2 to witness how badass Reinhold really is!

  3. I've never even heard of this series before. But its pretty cool that Christopher Plummer and Judge Reinhold were in these movies. I enjoyed Thomas Ian Griffith's hammy performance as the bad guy in Karate Kid III but never knew he had leading roles in action movies.

  4. Yeah, it's a pretty obscure franchise. Not sure why I own it!

    Yeah, Griffth never really took off as a leading man. I think it was Ulterior Motives (1992) where the poster boasted the tagline "You've seen Seagal and Van Damme. Now meet the new contender..."

  5. Just watched Crackerjack was hilarious! Judge Reinhold is the perfect action star. His kung-fu bit in his underwear was so absurd, we couldn't stop laughing.

    Also can we use one of your Reinhold pics? Will happily give credit.

  6. Hey Ty, glad you enjoyed it. Reinhold definitely makes the sequel worth watching. He is so inept as an action hero. Wish he'd made more.

    Very happy for you to use any pics. I sourced them all myself. Don't worry about credit. Just spread the word!

  7. Thanks! Our Crackjack 2 review will be up tomorrow!