Film review: Lightning Jack

Published: Tuesday, March 15 1994 12:00 a.m. MST

Paul Hogan wrote, co-produced and stars as the title character in "Lightning Jack," a fish-out-of-water follow-up (and possible franchise?) to his enormously successful " `Crocodile' Dundee" pictures, and an apparent effort to make lightning strike twice, if you will.

But this road has been trod a few too many times before — and by much better movies, ranging from "Destry Rides Again" to "Support Your Local Sheriff." Besides, "Jack" is little more than a larcenous "Crocodile" in the Old West, a bungling Australian bandit whom the American newspapers identify as having "an English accent."

The film begins with Jack as part of the Younger gang. When they rob a bank in Junction City, where the zealous, politically minded marshall (Pat Hingle) has organized the townfolk for just such a crisis, the entire gang is gunned down . . . save Jack, who escapes but is thought to be dead.

Striking out on his own, Jack tries to pull his next bank job solo but flubs again and, to help make his escape, takes a hostage, a mute named Ben. Of course, what Jack doesn't know is that Ben isn't exactly a favorite with the townspeople and doesn't make much of a hostage.

Instead, Ben becomes Jack's sidekick, an outlaw-in-training, though he has too good a heart to shoot anyone — a drawback for which Jack is more than happy to compensate.

Together they botch a few robberies and visit Jack's girlfriend (Beverly D'Angelo) before finally deciding to go back to Junction City to tackle that bank that was the Younger gang's undoing.

As with the " `Crocodile' Dundee" sequel and "Almost an Angel," "Lightning Jack" is sluggish and too long, an indication that Hogan the writer-producer could use some collaborators to point out his mistakes, so that the script might be punchier, the pacing less lethargic and the comedy more consistent. (Co-producer/director Simon Wincer has to his credit what is arguably the best Western TV-movie ever, "Lonesome Dove," but his uneven theatrical output also includes "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man," "Quigley Down Under" and "Free Willy.")

Hogan's considerable charm carries much of this, though whenever Gooding is on the screen he steals the picture. A talented dramatic actor ("Boyz N the Hood," "A Few Good Men"), Gooding is hilarious here, offering up some wonderful pantomime slapstick, yet there is also an air of dignity to his disadvantaged and disenfranchised character.

Hingle is a solid presence as the chief authority figure, but the talented D'Angelo is sorely underused as window dressing.

There are other problems, as well — the plotting is routine and overly sentimental, the level of violence is a bit brutal in places and the sex jokes are far too raunchy for kids . . . though the film is clearly being sold as a family picture.

And all the best jokes are in the trailer (theatrical preview).

"Lightning Jack" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, vulgarity, sexual innuendo and nude paintings that adorn the wall of a saloon/brothel.

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