Lightning Jack

1994, Movie, PG-13, 93 mins

Review

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Writer Paul Hogan is producer-star Paul Hogan's main liability in this intermittently entertaining, but mostly dull, rambling, and derivative comic western.

Hogan plays the title character, a legendary gunslinger who rides with the Younger Gang until a bank robbery in Junction City goes awry and leaves Jack a gang of one. His first solo bank job is a fiasco: Jack nets 50 bucks and a hostage, Ben Doyle (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Ben, a mute who's tired of being taken for an idiot, wants to become Jack's partner in crime, but Jack rejects his overtures until Ben saves him twice in the same day from a pursuing posse. When Ben proves hopeless at rudimentary outlaw skills, Jack builds him a silent-but-deadly persona as "legendary" Indian slayer "Comanche" Ben. The ruse serves well enough until the two come up against another legendary gunman, John T. Coles (Roger Daltrey of The Who).

The resulting brawl lands Jack in jail, but the local sheriff (L.Q. Jones), an old friend, looks the other way when Ben springs Jack by setting fire to the jail. Jack wants to pull just one more bank job, hoping to become "notorious" enough to impress his mates back in Australia and rich enough to retire with sexy saloon singer Lana (Beverly D'Angelo). The partners return to Junction City and pull off a daring, successful robbery, just after the local law-and-order marshall (Pat Hingle) has led the slaughter of another hapless gang. Their task accomplished, the three ride off into the sunset together.

Handsomely mounted by veteran Australian director Simon Wincer (TV's "Lonesome Dove", FREE WILLY) and expertly cast, JACK is a well-dressed western with no place to go. Its characters are one-dimensional and its situations mostly contrived and predictable. Take away the mild profanity, blood-pellet bullet hits, and D'Angelo's amply displayed cleavage, and you'd be left with a second-rate Disney family adventure. Hogan the writer has written a vehicle for Hogan the star. But Hogan the star ("CROCODILE" DUNDEE) lacks star quality. He's unflaggingly laconic and likable when what's really needed is more of the edginess of an Eastwood, a John Wayne, or even a Kevin Costner. Hogan's always been more of a "personality" than an actor, whose audience appeal, in America, at least, has faded as he's failed to move beyond his "g'day, mate" folksiness.

Gooding gets as much mileage as he can out of Ben Doyle, but the character is so saccharine he makes Huckleberry Finn's runaway slave Jim look like a firebrand. The relationship between Ben and Jack never really develops any warmth or resonance, mainly because it seems never to have been thought through. While D'Angelo looks right as a frontier madam, she gives a thoroughly routine performance as a thoroughly routine golden-hearted whore. A real, unexpected jolt of energy comes from Daltrey, who's so good in his tiny role he makes one wonder how he would have done as English Bob in UNFORGIVEN. (Violence, profanity, adult situations) leave a comment

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