Crackerjack (1994) Review
Crackerjack was directed by Michael Mazo (Possession, Empire of Ash), written by Micheal Bafaro (Amber’s Descent, Embedded) and Jonas Quastel (Forced to Fight, Untold), and stars Thomas Ian Griffith (High Adventure, Cobra Kai), Christopher Plummer (The Battle of Britain, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster), Natassja Kinski (Tess, Cat People), Richard Sali (Animorphs, Face Down), Lisa Bunting (Iron Road, Action Man), and George Touliatos (Heavy Metal, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). It’s about a cop on vacation in a ski lodge fighting to stop a group of armed men from executing a cover-up job on one of the lodge’s residents.
The Plot: Time and time again filmmakers come back to lift from the 1988 classic Die Hard, and here’s yet another example. Bafaro and Quastel win some points for originality in the motive, but immediately lose them with a preposterous plan.
A collision course is set to play out after Getz (Plummer) has just had the location of mob boss Sonny (Touliatos) revealed to him by a tortured goon, and reckless cop Jack (Griffith) – AKA “Crackerjack” – gets suspended from the force for his conduct. Mazo wastes little time getting the key players where they need to be, which is very much appreciated when the events that have and will play out are this unoriginal. For his birthday, Jack receives a trip to a ski resort from his brother Mike (Sali) and his wife Annie (Bunting); can you guess where the mob boss will be located?
With almost everyone where they need to be, Crackerjack at least has a different way of separating the underdog from the rest of the pack, by introducing resort activities director K. C. (Kinski) to Jack. Soon the baddies arrive, holding the vacationers hostage to set up their plan to kill Sonny: causing an avalanche to crush the resort in a way that will look natural. Even these low-rent clones have their logical breaking point, and Crackerjack’s come crashing down with this plan revealed.
You know how this is going to go, even with a couple of minor changes. It didn’t need to do much to be acceptable, but the utterly baffling plan strikes the story down a notch.
The Characters: Instead of just ripping off the McClane character, the writers introduce some Lethal Weapon traits to the hero; though everyone else is almost exactly who one would expect to be in one of these movies.
Jack is a cop on the edge after the death of his own wife and kids following a leak of his identity during an undercover job. Now he pushes everyone away and drowns his sorrows in alcohol, though it’s clear that he doesn’t like how he acts. At his surprise party where he gets his ticket, he opens the door with his gun pointed at the crowd, which is a strong way to show his mental discontent. Crackerjack doesn’t stay this believable, as K. C. shows a mutual attraction with the man for no discernable reason aside from checking boxes when some solo development would’ve worked just fine.
Mike and Annie more or less exist to exposit the details of Jack’s personal life to K. C. and to get captured. The writers tried to make a dynamic out of their attempts to get Jack some help, but the script doesn’t convincingly portray the other half, as Jack only ever insults them and feels bad about it, but never does anything about it until the obligatory saviour arc plays out.
Getz is literally just a carbon copy of Die Hard’s villain. A distinguished European man (it’s hard to pin down the accent) who gives the option of smooth sailing but is perfectly fine with murder if it means his plan will succeed. What Getz doesn’t have is a strong plan, willingness to wait, or a hidden motive that comes out midway through the runtime. He’s a lesser imitation in every way; just like all of Crackerjack’s characters.
The Action: Mazo delivers the action here, even if most of it is dangerously close to copyright infringement territory. The movie is never dull, but it is overly familiar with its fights.
Assaulting the resort comes with plenty of lifted moments, such as Getz’s men walking in and opening fire on the check-in manager and proceeding to monologue to the horrified patrons, but it does have Jack on the receiving end almost immediately, which helps verify the threat. While he overlooks a skylight containing the movie’s participants, one of the goons finds him and begins to bring him down, only for Jack to pretend to be drunk and catch the man off guard. It’s silly, but it works to show his quick-wittedness in the situation and his fighting ability.
From the beginning of the takeover to the point where Jack manages to get the upper hand, the movie openly steals from its progenitor. Getz’s thugs find the body of the first kill, realize they have a problem, comb the area to find nothing, and stay on alert until he strikes again. Crackerjack copies the format but misses the freneticism and vulnerability of its hero (though he takes a hit or two, his speed and agility are never affected), who also doesn’t have anyone to bounce off or argue with, making his fight a dull one. Ironically enough, there’s no popping of the environment to create a crackerjack sense of uneven odds.
Like how the Nakatomi building took some significant beatings in the latter minutes of Die Hard, Crackerjack delivers on its setting’s natural hazards and travel methods. Cable cars are rare sights in movies in general, but having one be a funnel of sorts for the characters is a creative idea, and the finale brings the expected level of snowfall and then some with Getz’s plan playing out and finally delivering a real threat to the feature. It’s a shame all of this came so late, as the action of the first 70 minutes is perfunctory at best.
The Technics: With the video marketplace still riding strong, many companies were churning out movies for cheap with a decent rate of return for their scaled-back efforts. Mazo may not have had the possibility of matching the scope of bigger blockbusters, but Crackerjack punched a little above its weight.
Despite the obviously low funds, the movie gets a lot of mileage out of its setting, which offers new sights, at least for action films. The lodge that most of the movie takes place in has its fair share of decorations, expensive fixtures, and glass, all of which lends the movie a sense of legitimacy towards its high-end location. Together with the gardens that surround the place, and a hidden hot spring (that admittedly looks pretty fake), there’s always something to look at, even if the cinematography is subpar overall.
Pacing comes as a detriment to Crackerjack, as it makes no effort to disguise its source’s influence, a lot of time before the bad guys make their entrance could’ve been cut without much being lost. Dialogue doesn’t help the time pass either, as scenes where lines are repeated almost word for word are played completely straight, elongating the film as though everyone hasn’t seen all of this before.
It probably sounds like a terrible time, but Crackerjack isn’t that – it’s just a blatant and pale imitation of an all-time classic without any style, creativity, or scope of its own. If you think you’ve seen Die Hard enough times (I highly doubt that’s even possible), there’s always this.