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.
This film of magical heists and mystery looked like just a fairly fun outing from the trailers, and I’m glad to say that is what I received. Now You See Me has a great cast of talent that delivers, a script that is smart enough, and a premise that maintains your interest to see where the next twist will take you. It’s not brilliant, but it is well designed to entertain.
An elite FBI squad, led by Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), is pitted in a game of cat and mouse against “The Four Horsemen,” (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, David Franco) a super-team of the world’s greatest illusionists who a year ago were mere street performers. “The Four Horsemen” pull off a series of daring heists against corrupt business leaders during their performances, showering the stolen profits on their audiences while staying one step ahead of the law. Their sensationalistic crimes also ensnare the attention of Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) who now debunks and exposes the tricks of magicians for his own gain. As the Horsemen’s grand game of misdirection and slight of hand escalates towards their grand finale, it’s a cunning game of wits for all to pull the curtain back to unveil the hidden truth behind it all.
Indeed, what sells this film in general is the excellent acting talents involved. Morgan Freeman is surefire as this former magician who now seeks to debunk the best in the business for higher fortune. He keeps the riddles twisting around the audience leading us on, but never fully revealing the next step. How he deconstructs how the Four Horsemen executed their tricks and heists is smartly done. Freeman does a wonderful job here bringing his usual intellectual savvy to this perceptive character.
The Horsemen themselves are vibrantly portrayed with Jesse Eisenberg being the strongest of them as J. Daniel Atlas. He really projects some smart, quick witted savvy that demonstrates Daniel’s leadership, and his humorous banter with his co-stars is quick and sharp. He definitely feels like the guy who could outsmart anyone in the room, and do it with style. Isla Fisher plays nicely off of Eisenberg as Henley and Daniel have some romantic fallout between them, but it’s kept light and smart. Woody Harrelson puts in a real good performance showing Merritt McKinley to be a very intuitive personality from his skills as a mentalist. He can read people up and down, inside and out to pull little hints of information from them, and Harrelson uses that to solid comedic effect. Dave Franco might seem like the weak link in the team, by design, but he eventually gets his moments to shine as street hustler Jack Wilder. Altogether, this is a great foursome of sharp talents that never upstage one another, but instead, complement each other in a cohesive fashion. They’re very fun to watch.
And of course, Mark Ruffalo is a charming treat as Dylan Rhodes. Ruffalo brings charisma and a rough edge to Rhodes, but maintains him as an enjoyable, smart guy that you can connect with. He is always portrayed as a competent and solid FBI Agent, but you see him trying to deconstruct all of these theatrics with regular investigative work. So, it’s a fun ride to see him weave through it all dealing with Thaddeus Bradley as well as French Interpol Agent Dray, who you’re given reason to suspect as being not entirely as she seems. Ruffalo has decent chemistry with Mélanie Laurent. There are never sparks flying between them, but it’s an honest and sweet pairing that has its light humor and genuineness. Basically, if you liked what Ruffalo did as Bruce Banner in The Avengers, I think you’ll enjoy the humor, heart, and charisma he brings forth here.
The visual effects throughout the film are very excellent. They sell the flash and style of the Horsemen’s illusions with stellar results. There might be one or two moments where the CGI isn’t as good as it is elsewhere, but in the vast majority, this is seamless and awesome work. It gives the film its visual flare and style. And it is an exceptionally well shot movie. Director Louis Leterrier really knows how to put together a visually solid movie as I did very much enjoy The Incredible Hulk, and the integration of visual effects into live action is superbly done under his direction. Leterrier beautifully utilizes all the rich talent he has at this disposal here, and executes this script with smart direction that kept me engaged and guessing.
And while I expected fun and flashiness, I was pleasantly surprised that the film had some nice action sequences. There’s a decently well stage foot chase through the crowded streets of New Orleans with some clever beats. Later on, when the FBI is closing in on the Horsemen, we get an extremely impressive and acrobatic fight scene with Franco and Ruffalo. There’s some great, fast, and fluid moves in this that just stunned me from Dave Franco. He’s combating people with swift actions like that of a ninja, and this sequence showcases smarts and sharpness in every second. Following this, there’s a really good car chase through Manhattan, New York. All of this action is very well done with only a few minor moments of shaky cam, but it ultimately came out to be very pleasing. The film’s climax isn’t really action based, but focused on the story and motives behind this elaborate magic trick. It unfolds nicely with fine dramatic beats, but surely, I won’t be spoiling any of these well written and executed reveals to you at all.
How the mystery all plays out is engaging and intriguing. I kind of view the movie, going in, as The Prestige crossed with Ocean’s Eleven, and that’s generally how to look at it in concept. It doesn’t match the brilliance of either of those films, but as I said, it’s a fun, entertaining experience. It is the twisting and turning puzzle that the Horsemen are constructing that make it interesting. You don’t know what the next trick will be, but it’s about even more than that. It’s not just the magic that they perform and how they did it, but the motives behind it keep you guessing. It’s cleverly designed through and through. How it’s all setup with a mysterious benefactor bringing together and enabling this foursome, even the Horsemen don’t know the full truth, and so, there is a layered mystery at hand. The FBI is just interested in catching these performers in the act of the crime, and Bradley is interested in burning them down for his own self-serving fame and fortune. So, everyone has their motives, and they all nicely interweave into the reveals at the film’s end. The ultimate twist is something I’m a little divided on. I liked the moment of the reveal as it is dramatically and beautifully played, but it wasn’t quite setup in the film. All of the other pieces are there to assemble the motives and interwoven storylines together. As a magic trick played on a grand canvas, this film does a really excellent job of doing that. The ultimate reveal just felt like it needed a little more punch. Something like a Keyser Söze reveal where the clues were there the whole time, but you couldn’t pick up on them. Something subtle, something between the lines that would strike you at just the right moment. I could figure out the why, but not entirely who amongst this cast or beyond would be the Horsemen’s ultimate benefactor. It’s far away from being a poor ending, but it could’ve benefitted from a little more setup.
Frankly, I think Now You See Me is just a fun time to have at the movie theatre. I’m sure if you went into it with a critical mind you could nitpick it apart, and see how really unbelievable the plot is in all its little nuances. Thankfully, I was enjoying myself consistently throughout this movie, and was able to sit back, relax, and just have a pleasant time with it. Just like magic, you have to let your mind go and just allow yourself to be entertained by the cleverness and spectacle at hand. The film is smartly written overall, in my opinion, and I found that there was plenty of subtle setup and pay-off for practically everything in here. This film captures the spirit of magic very well, and it’s almost refreshing to see a film of so many vibrant characters without a real villain in the mix. Everyone is enjoyable in their own ways, and next to no one is tinged with villainy. It’s just a fun ride that I think essentially anyone can enjoy if they’re willing to just embrace it.