this week’s die hard at a mountain lodge/ski resort movie #1 is brought to you by crackerjack (or cracker jack, if you’re illiterate like netfLIx, which sounds like a pretty racist title to me), a direct-to-video movie released in 1994. despite the poster on the left, it’s more die hard than cliffhanger. in fact, i don’t think there’s an orange jumpsuit guy dangling off a snowy mountain. although a snowy mountain is kind of integral to the plot, and i guess cliffhanger came out a year before and was a surprise hit.
dtv staple thomas ian griffith stars as the title character. while i have heard of him, this is actually my first thomas ian griffith vehicle. t.i.g. plays a character named jack wild (i don’t know if it’s a homage to jack london and call of the wild), nicknamed crackerjack, no space. so the movie title alone earns a few points for naming after the lead, not just because it sounds action-y. or something generic like the (noun) or the (name) (noun) or (gerund) the (noun or name) or (noun) of (noun) like so many dtv action movies that came later. respectively: the foreigner/peacekeeper/skyscraper, the hades factor/echelon conspiracy, breaking the law/walking tall/taking of beverly hills, army of one/mercenary for justice…etc etc etc. in fact, there isn’t even a pun in the title. at least i don’t think it’s supposed to be.
i haven’t done any scientific research on this but they don’t seem to name movies after characters anymore, especially nicknames, unless it’s a biopic based on a real person or a picture book/superhero movie. it has nothing to do with anything but i just thought it’s interesting. sure, there’s machete or macgruber but both are homages to the 70s and 80s. surely i can’t be the only one who misses movies named dirty harry, mad max, cobra, action jackson, hudson hawk, or mitchell.
anyway, t.i.g. plays a chicago cop who’s not only on the edge, but also doesn’t play by the rules. but unlike martin riggs, his african-american by-the-books partner is not played by danny glover. although, his family is killed by the bad guys and he is now an alcoholic. t.i.g. also has mel gibson’s mullet-ish hair that lasted at least until two or three lethal weapon movies.
to be honest, i didn’t have much hope during the opening of the movie. before the inconsequential opening action sequence where we get the how-badass-is-he scene, the first thing we see is a mid-credit scene about his family getting killed that turns out more cheesy and funny than intended. since they show this scene again later, with more context, they could have done without this mid opening credit flashback.
for a 96 minute movie, crackerjack takes its sweetass time to get to the point. it took a third of the movie’s running time for the bad guy to get to the mountain lodge. it’s a pretty long half hour. while it does set a few things up, it also tries to give us the backstories of the characters. this part is pretty boring and routine. in fact, this whole first act shows that the t.i.g. character is kind of a douche. i mean, it’s one thing to grief over your family being killed a year ago in a car explosion but it’s something else when you punch your biological brother in the face for throwing you a surprise birthday party.
after punching his brother for throwing him the surprise birthday party, jack wild aka crackerjack’s sister-in-law suggests that they go to the rockies (played by vancouver, b.c.) for a vacation. perfect timing that the captain calls, during the surprise birthday party to tell jack “crackerjack” wild that he’s suspended cause he’s too dangerous. well at least we are spared of the captain-taking-away-the-gun-and-the-badge scene.
in a pleasant surprise, things actually get better after the first act. so if you can make it through the first 36 minutes, you’re in for a treat.
before we get to the grubers, the movie also introduces the lodge’s “activities director” played by nastassja kinski. yes, the same actress who worked with coppola, wim wenders, paul schrader, and roman polanski. she also later works with mike figgis, neil labute, and david lynch. but not before crackerjack, terminal velocity with charlie sheen, and in between father’s day, and town and country.
the lead villain ivan getz is played by oscar nominated (for playing tolstoy) christopher plummer. i was quite surprised to learn that he’s actually canadian instead of british. like most die hard-ish movies, along with alan rickman, jeremy iron, bruce payne, and as you’ll see later, patrick stewart, the vaguely european terrorist leader is always the highlight of the movie.
another weird thing about this crackerjack terrorist group is that they seem to have some kind of eyewear fetish. plummer’s character switches between regular eye glasses and a blue sunglasses. a few of the terrorist wear glasses, there’s even one with an eye patch. vaguely european and terrorists, yes. pirates, no.
minus the looooong intro, we are pretty much left with an hour of actual die hard-ish movie. and it does not disappoint. there are numerous twists and turns and die hard homages. there are lines that are exact duplicates of the original die hard. t.i.g. is just good enough in the action scenes and delivering cheesy oneliners (hang in there). plummer is kind of a mixture of christopher walken and kevin spacey. kinski doesn’t have much to do besides being the love interest and providing sex appeal. after accepting the fact that it’s a low budget dtv die hard-ish movie and sitting through the first act, crackerjack is a pretty entertaining way to kill an hour out of 96 minutes.
the pitch: die hard at a mountain resort (i don’t know if it’s special effects but the resort the movie takes place actually looks like a nice place, with nice weather and glacier not too faraway. it’s a nicer place than some rundown strip malls).
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: thomas ian griffith, who throughout the movie reminds me of kurt russell, matthew mcconaughey, mickey rouke, andrew mccarthy, christian bale, will arnett, or a member of any 80s new wave bands like tears for fears. he’s also pretty good in action scenes and one liners.
the gruber factor: christopher plummer as ivan getz, channeling christopher walken and kevin spacey. he’s canadian but playing a german terrorist a la die hard 1 and 3.
the hans objective: $50 million worth of diamond, though like hans gruber he has an ulterior motive, though in reverse, kind of.
wrong place at the wrong time: jack “crackerjack” wild is on vacation at the mountain resort and the movie takes a few scenes to show how no one can get in and out.
the help: nastassja kinski as the “activities director” of the resort. jack “crackerjack” wild calls out to the um, marine for help. he also calls his african-american by-the-books partner but he doesn’t seem to provide any actual help.
the family element: his brother and sister-in-law and their baby. kinski as the love interest.
bonfire of the weaponry: guns, knives, bombs, improvised weapons such as diamond-in-ice alcoholic beverages.
last man standing: it looks like there was going to be a one on one face off but it was cut short by one of the henchman that ivan getz betrayed.
unbearables: quite a few. t.i.g. talks to himself. says one liners after taking out bad guys. he radioed for help but only to see the helps get killed by the bad guys. the helps at one point thought he’s one of the terrorists and try to kill him, so he says the mcclane line “i’m on your side, assholes.” he uses torches so a helicopter can land like in die hard 2 but they twist it so it’s the bad guy’s getaway helicopter. there are more than one vaguely european bad guys with long blonde hair. there’s also the hostage manifest scene where plummer is trying to figure out who the lone hero is and which hostages he’s related to. there’s a bad guy who you think was dead but shows up at the last minute. the poster tries to sell it as cliffhanger, which was directed by renny harlin, who also directed die hard 2. plummer is supposed to be german like the grubers in die hard 1 & 3. there’s a female character among the terrorist group as in die hard 3 and 4 (though they up the wtf element by making her cartoonishly manly). kinski later show up in terminal velocity, which is speed-ish, which is die hard-ish. she also does about as much as the female/sidekick character as in the die hard-ish under sieges and passenger 57 movies. christopher plummer will be in the u.s. version of the girl with the dragon tattoo, which is directed by david fincher, who also directed the die hard-ish panic room. plummer is also in the die hard-ish spike lee joint the inside man (and lee’s malcolm x). he’s also in 12 monkeys with bruce, the lake house with keanu, star of speed 1, must love dogs with john cusack, who’s in con air; also national treasure 1 with nicolas cage, who’s in con air and the rock, both die hard-ish.
p.s. there are two sequels to crackjack sans thomas ian griffith. crackjack 2 is called hostage train with judge reinhold as jack wild while part 3 doesn’t sound as die hard-ish as it features a group of heroes and villains and one of the characters is named jack thorn with neither t.i.g. nor reinhold, instead we get bo svenson and olivier gruner.