The Jacket
Directed by John Maybury
Written by Massy Tadjedin from a story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco
Starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley


The Jacket

Call it the Battle of the Bites: Adrien Brody's dentist vs. Kris Kristofferson's dentist. There are so many extreme closeups of their teeth as they go head to head, I was able to spot some real malocclusion and would be happy to recommend a good orthodontist. But that's the least of it. There are even more closeups of Brody's eye, as he sees into the future and the past through it. All of this comes about because Brody, named Jack Starks, a soldier in the first Gulf War, tries to befriend a boy who then shoots him in the head. Given up for dead - he says to us, "The first time I died was in 1991" - he has amnesia.

Two things happen in quick succession. First he helps a drunken mother (Kelly Lynch) and her bright little daughter fix their truck on a snowy Vermont road. The girl asks about his dog tags and he gives them to her. The second event appears to happen a short time later, which is that he's picked up while hitchhiking by a man who's stopped by a cop. The man kills the cop and frames poor Adrien, who was unconscious and can't remember what happened. Committed to a hospital for the criminally insane, run by the sadistic Dr. Becker (Kristofferson), he's 'treated' by being drugged and put into a morgue vault tied into the 'jacket' of the title for hours, or perhaps days at a time.

But an odd thing happens in the vault: Jack can either a) see into the future, specifically the year 2007; or b) he can actually be transported into 2007. In any case, that is where he meets the little girl who has grown up to become Keira Knightley, although without her British accent. What is going on here? Because apparently Jack also died on New Year's Day of 1993. Well. Can this mystery be solved? Let's leave it there; to say more would be to do harm to a film that's already much too busy doing harm to itself.

The problem with "The Jacket" is that it tries so hard to make the unbelievable believable that we see behind the curtain to the little man trying to fool us. Where the film, if it's to succeed, must make us a partner in its conceit and its structure, instead it keeps stepping back just enough so that we end up watching events from a distance. I'm sure director John Maybury and screenwriter Massy Tadjedin thought they'd made the perfect puzzle film, but all they've given us is a tedious series of visual effects that have been done better elsewhere.

Having said that, I must add that Adrien Brody, with that knife-edge nose, expressive mouth and deep-set, haunted eyes (to say nothing of the most anorexic body in films), commands the screen in every scene. He is that rare creature, a character actor who is also a star. And although we are all sick of Kristofferson's standard shtick - he and Nick Nolte could exchange roles without anyone noticing the difference - that's probably why he was cast in the first place. Jennifer Jason Leigh, as another doctor, has the thankless job of trying to be a good person while the plot forces her, for a while at least, to be bad.

The film was produced by everybody from George Clooney to Steven Soderbergh to Peter Guber to Mark Cuban (he owns the Arizona Diamondbacks, for God's sake); you'd think they would have done a better job.