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Jacket, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/02/05 22:54:06

"Uh...Umm...Damn that guideline about not telling endings."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Science fiction looks easy. After all, you're not constrained by the limits of the known world, so you can pretty much do anything, right? Well, no. Contrary to what the folks who yell "it's called science FICTION" whenever a logical inconsistency is pointed out seem to think, all the details have to fit tightly together for the story to really work. The Jacket wasn't much above average to begin with, but when it decides to abandon its set-up late in the game, it sells its audience out.

Not that The Jacket was going to qualify as hard science fiction anyway; its method of time travel defies logical explanation (apparently surviving a bullet to the brain combined with later sensory deprivation is able to cause physical manifestations in a future time period). But even "modern fantasy" or "magic realism" or whatever the critics are calling it this week needs some internal consistency. Even if you go with the "it's not the nuts and bolts that are important, but the characters and how they react to their situations" crowd, the filmmaker still has to sell those situations to the audience (and some of us in the audience like our nuts and bolts). And to take it to the next step, even if you believe that suspension of disbelief is the job of the audience as opposed to the filmmaker (and I'd argue it's the other way around), it's still asking a bit much to ask the audience to believe two completely contradictory things in rapid succession.

I'm harping. I know I'm harping. I'm harping because I don't want to spell out what happens at the end of this movie, because that's a crappy thing for a reviewer to do, even for a crappy movie. But movies involving characters unstuck in time often have a plot structure that loops back upon itself, so that the true poorness of the writing doesn't really become apparent until you've seen the whole thing. And that's how it is with The Jacket: It uses the last five minutes to go from "slightly below average" to "perhaps more clever than I'd given it credit for" to "a complete mess", and though I'd like to go into spoilerific detail as to why, this isn't the place.

I can, however, complain about the eternity that the film takes to set up its premise: We get an extended Gulf War I sequence to explain the bullet to the brain, then a "walking through northern Vermont for the express purpose of randomly meeting People Important To The Plot" segment, then an explanation of why ex-soldier Jack Starks (Adrien Bordy) is sent to a mental hospital to be tortured by Dr. Thomas Becker (Kris Kristofferson). Then, finally, the story gets going. Becker's experimental treatment somehow sends Starks into the future (2006, with the rest of the movie taking place in 1991), or at least a convincing hallucination thereof. There, he learns he dies in early 1992, but how to convince the nice Doctor Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that his life is in danger? He also meets up with 2006's Jackie Price (Keira Knightley), whom he'd encountered on the road toward the start of the movie, when she was just a little girl. Lucky coincidence, that. OR IS IT???

So, okay, you've got a plot full of contrivances and a truly grotesque amount of set-up. To make things just a bit less fun, it's grimy and unpleasant to look at. There's no attempt to make interesting use the starkly white New England winter. There's no air of anything other than decay around the mental hospital where Starks is incarcerated, and decay doesn't fit in with the story. Future-Jackie is a sullen, morose young woman using all the associated black cosmetics; it's hard to imagine what attracts Starks to her, other than how she seemed like a pretty nice eight-year-old a couple days earlier - and that may be one of the creepiest bases for a physical relationship ever.

It's also a lazy movie in other ways. It will recognize that what Starks is saying about popping back and forth in time sounds insane, and have Jackie or Dr. Lorenson say it's insane, and then have them acting like it makes sense the next time we see them. We doesn't offer the vaguest hint of how its central plot device works. It uses red filters and rapid cuts to indicate that, whoa, something weird is going on here. And, finally, it uses the main theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, "All the Time in the World", but director John Maybury or whoever chose the music doesn't even seem to understand the convention that, when you re-use a song such as that, you attempt to add irony rather than remove it.

And then there's the stupid last scene which that song appears in. Sure, maybe someone a little less anal about their speculative fiction making sense won't find it as maddening as me, won't see it as destroying what little the movie accomplished. But, then again, even before that scene, it was a pretty forgettable movie.

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