Yep, I could make a whole month out of reviewing Die Hard clones before even getting around to reviewing Die Hard. Seagal, Van Damme, Snipes, Ford, and every other action star under the sun got their turn to grapple with this formula. So, Thomas Ian Griffith got his chance as Detective Jack Wild in this film that spawned two sequels, neither of which starred Griffith, but let’s see how Crackerjack stacks up to the competition.
Chicago cop Jack Wild (Thomas Ian Griffith) reluctantly aggress to join his brother’s family for a vacation at the exclusive Panorama Springs Hotel, high in the glacier-capped Rocky Mountains. But when a team of mercenaries determined to hijack over $50 million in diamonds descend on the resort, Jack strikes back. Now, together with beautiful hotel guide K.C. (Nastassja Kinski), Jack must race against the clock to stop their calculating leader Ivan Getz (Christopher Plummer) from getting away and exploding the glacier above the hotel to cover his tracks.
The burnt out cop is a very familiar trope in action movies, but if you get an actor who can really flesh out the character, it all works nicely. Thomas Ian Griffith again proves his quality as an actor showing Detective Wild to be relatable and interesting. Being a bit unhinged, he charges headlong into danger as if he does have nothing to lose, and that’s how he feels after his wife and kids were killed. When he’s dragged up to the ski resort, he’s restless and still potentially volatile, but after making a connection with Katia, you see him soften and begin to turn a corner. Griffith and Nastassja Kinski have some good, touching chemistry that translates really well on screen. The charisma he naturally brings into the film really enhances the clichéd material in the script, and makes Wild a dimensional and enjoyable character to follow.
The film really does a lot to build up the emotional investment in Jack Wild’s fractured situation. The flashbacks to the last moments of his family’s life are touching, and director Michael Mazo really takes the time for those emotions to sink in. The reveal of who actually killed his family is a rather unneeded additional motivation for Wild, but I’m hardly going to hold that against the movie. It’s not striving for fresh, original ideas as there is much lifted directly from Die Hard from the basic premise to very similar bits of dialogue, Getz’ right hand mercenary looking like a carbon copy of Karl, Getz threatening to kill an innocent man to motivate Wild to return the diamonds, and him planning to wipe out all the witnesses with a cataclysmic explosion. However, the filmmakers still manage to make this a very fun and entertaining ride despite how by-the-numbers and uninspired this script is. Much of this is due to some impressive action scenes, and the villain that we are given here.
I love Christopher Plummer. He’s an absolutely tremendous actor in so many compelling roles, but you know what? I think every serious, respectable actor deserves to take on a nicely cheesy villain role at least once. As Ivan Getz, I think he just eats up the fun quality of the role, and does make for an intimidating adversary even if so much is clearly lifted from Alan Richman’s Hans Gruber. The rather stereotypical German accent is the most obvious evidence, but it adds to the film’s B-movie charm. Getz separates himself from Gruber, though, by being a bit of a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur akin to the Third Reich. It allows Plummer to have some intriguing monologues that kind of gives you flashbacks to him as General Chang in Star Trek VI, and that’s generally not a bad thing. Plummer and Griffith have some solid exchanges that build up the personal adversarial connection, mostly done over a two-way radio, and it’s enough fuel to keep the movie going at its consistent, good pace.
Crackerjack is indeed action packed, but features far more gunplay than Griffith’s martial arts skills, much like Van Damme in Sudden Death. However, this is still plenty exciting with big, explosive moments and fun thrills up and down this high altitude adventure. Despite being a direct-to-video feature, the action set pieces are quite impressive, especially when the helicopters blow up, and the finale has some really good miniature effects. For its time, this was a quite admirable action picture, but I would expect modern audiences to be left wanting more spectacle.
Now, if there’s one thing that makes Crackerjack feel distinctly direct-to-video it’s the synthesizer score. Absolutely, a completely synth based score can be excellent. I’m a Jan Hammer Miami Vice fan after all, but there’s a difference when you have a score that is primarily composed for an orchestral arrangement but is performed on a keyboard. After a while, it got to be almost distracting because I kept feeling like I was watching something from Full Moon Features like Subspecies. The score just sounds cheap in this context, and really detracts from the otherwise high production values here. If this score had been given an orchestral treatment, it would have been perfectly fine. There are times when the score works very well, but the obvious limitations do regularly show through.
You could maybe say the same for the cinematography as it is fairly point and shoot with very little in the way of special cinematic visuals. There’s nothing along the lines of crane shots, intriguing angles, or steadicam work, but compared to a lot of shaky cam action films today, I can find that more minimalist approach to be enjoyable. The action scenes are very competently shot, and you’re never confused as to what’s happening. The editing is conservative allowing the action to drive the cuts, and not forcing kinetic excitement by cutting to another shot every split second. Fast tempo editing definitely has its gold standards, but I do enjoy seeing a time when filmmakers did take their time to just allow the action to play out with more comfortable framing and stable camera work.
Crackerjack certainly doesn’t have the budgetary muscle to compete on the scale of its theatrical brethren, but I would say it’s good action B-movie indulgence. Griffith does a very good job in this role making him both an emotionally damaged man, but also a sleek, sharp, and savvy action hero. He brings his natural charisma into the mix to make Jack Wild a really enjoyable protagonist to follow through this perilous adventure. Again, if I’m examining this small window into his career, I can’t say that this could’ve been a breakout film even if it did have a theatrical release budget. The script is very derivative of possibly the best action movie ever made, aiming entirely for the low budget fare, and doesn’t inject anything fresh into the formula. You can definitely get entertainment value out of the film’s fairly well used clichés and the fun performances. If you need any further convincing, you can check out the very funny video that introduced me to this movie courtesy of TheCinemaSnob.com.