The movie The Jacket gets its name because its hero is shot up with drugs, wrapped in a straight jacket, and stuffed in a morgue drawer. While he’s in there, he travels back and forth in time, and must solve the mystery of his own death. And there’s a love story.
So what kind of movie is this? The ads want you to think it’s a horror movie. Director John Maybury has said that it falls between the cracks of genre, and he hopes nobody puts a label on it. Well, the proper label is "science fiction" — but the term has been so debased that we have to rehabilitate it.
Jack Starks, played by Adrian Brody, has come unstuck in time. During the Gulf War, he was shot in the head. Now he’s hitchhiking towards Canada. He encounters a little girl and her mother, broken down by the side of the road. The mother is so drunk she can’t stand up. He kindly starts the truck, and gives the little girl, Jackie, his dogtags. Then he puts the mother behind the wheel of the truck and walks away. No doubt he made sure she wore her seatbelt.
There is a sudden incident, and Jack is shot in the head again, accused of killing a cop, and committed to a mental hospital. He’s understandably confused. Now he is the ward of a bad doctor played by Kris Kristofferson, and a kind one played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. That Jennifer Jason Leigh is a sane professional, yet does nothing to stop the torture, is inexplicable.
But there Jack is, straight jacketed, screaming in a drawer. Extreme closeups of his eyes and mouth are intercut with violent flashes. Suddenly he is in the year 2007. He meets up with Jackie, now grown up and played by Keira Knightley. She still has those dog tags. She can’t act; he’s a wimp. Absolutely out of nowhere, the screenplay requires them to have sex.
The Jacket is not a queasy dirge like Twelve Monkeys, because we never really doubt Jack’s sanity. The problem is, neither does anybody else. In a mental hospital, if the Second Coming of Christ actually happened, the doctors would write it off as an hallucination. But Jack is able to convince the doctors, the mom, and Jackie that he’s a time traveler because of that old cliché: He tells them Something He Couldn’t Possibly Know. Would a doctor risk the life of a child on Jack’s say-so? Would the world’s worst mom snap out of a lifetime’s alcoholic stupor because somebody knows her daughter’s nickname?
Maybury is reaching for big ideas. But it’s all like thin oatmeal – it makes you hungry for something substantial. Before the movie began, there was a trailer for A Scanner Darkly. Same producers, but brilliant material. The best part of The Jacket is the hope that it’s only a bump on the road to something better. I put my head down against the wind, more determined than ever that A Scanner Darkly will be right.
The Jacket is playing at Kerasotes Showplace East. This and other theater and music reviews are available on the web at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.