Anyone seeking an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride this weekend would do well to avoid “The Jacket,” a pseudo-thriller directed with neither the wit nor gravitas that could have pulled up the film from the doldrums of its barebones plot.
The premise probably looked better on paper than in execution. Good-hearted Gulf War vet Jack Starks (Adrien Brody), a man with an absurd capacity for bad-luck head wounds, returns home to play the unwilling witness to a fatal altercation with a highway patrolman. Believed guilty for the officer’s death and branded insane from his head trauma-filled past, Brody’s veteran is forced into a court-ordered stint at a mental institution of the classic horror movie variety — where the doctors are as emotionally unstable as their excessively quirky patients. An exaggerated medley of pill-popping ensues as a prelude to the treatment that will make up most of Jack’s stay — being strapped into a strait jacket and shoved into a morgue drawer for hours on end.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Enter Keira Knightley as Jackie, a love interest with a twist — she exists fifteen years in the future. Starks’ relationship to Jackie is intricately tied to the strait jacket of the movie’s title, a device whose power of time-travel is neither explained nor, really, explored.
Lacking the suspense of a bonafide thriller and flailing around the strained emotional depths “The Jacket” becomes an awkward movie middle-ground that is the rough equivalent of boring. The film struggles to establish an appropriate or even permanent tone, veering from occasional bursts of frenetic, music-video style flashback clips, which provide its so-called thrills to lengthier moody scenes that make a play at character development. The latter attempt, while honorable, eventually falls flat, and Starks becomes a two-dimensional nice guy, a victim simply floating through a world of imposing wrongs.
While it might prove challenging to remember that Brody once earned an Oscar, he does possess a face particularly suited to mournful weariness, and he can twitch his eye muscles spectacularly when a cocktail of bizarre psycho-ward drugs requires it. Knightley, on the other hand, struggles with her version of the sulky, alternative and conveniently single girl, even though she is required to do little more than pout and provide glaringly gratuitous flashes of nudity. Main acting kudos go to both Kris Kristofferson (playing a more subtle version of his usual sinister perfection) and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the institution’s physicians, for injecting a little weight into an otherwise disposable movie.
Post-Oscars Hollywood entertainment is traditionally light fare, though “The Jacket” attains a higher level of disappointment for the unimaginative direction that doesn’t halfway reach its potential. Beats are bulldozed through, and visuals lie flat. That the hero is in real danger is never truly considered, and neither suspense nor emotional attachment can ever be forged with a movie that isn’t invested in its own plot.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5