Crackerjack

Charm, gumption and a Yippee-ki-yay motherf*cker vaulted Die Hard into everyone’s favorite Christmas classics list. Crackerjack, by contrast, will do the opposite.

Die Hard on a mountain, this Canadian cheapie also has German baddies, and Christopher Plummer subbing Zs for Th’s as a Teutonic villain who favors starch collars and ugly racial politics as he takes a bunch of partiers hostage.

Luckily, a besotted Chicago cop (Thomas Ian Griffith of Karate Kid III fame) on vacation with his sister and bro-in-law is there to intercede, but not without a few J&B whiskey product placements and sound stage sullen set pieces along the way.

Crackerjack is bloody hilarious.

Its McClane is wound so tightly he punches out the organizer of his surprise party, and because this is knuckle-head action territory, he’s also been suspended from the force because he doesn’t see eye to bloodshot eye with the chief. And despite being able to knock back enough spirits to best Charles Bukowski, he’s still savvy and tough-as-nails enough to go toe-to-toe with his ruthless adversaries.

Genre fans will get a kick out of the Serpico nods, a Fredo-lite lifted right out of The Godfather and mise en scènes adorned with art depicting non-existent Chicago bluesmen, ’cause, you know…This is one Chicago cop who’s got the blues.

Crackerjack 3, the film’s equally hilarious (though unrelated) sequel, was a Koreatown DVD pick up by the authors of this site. In that one, Cold War spies reunite to take out a baddie threatening to lay waste to a German UN building. And its denouement reveals some subterfuge involving garden gnomes (!).

This one is a worthy series entry, with cable cars descending when they should be ascending, bizarre geographical blunders of bikinis and beach babes not normally present at such altitudes, and Nastassja Kinski as a deer-in-headlights love interest.

** (out of 5)

[Check out our Crackerjack discussion on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]

Man’s Best Friend

The animal attack film is the most enduring horror sub-genre, as straight-ahead slashers fall and and out of fancy. Man’s Best Friend is an overlooked 90s entry, in a time when even natural horrors looked like they were losing steam.

Put out by New Line Cinema, “the house that Freddy built,” this one is a nightmare of another sort: a Fido lab creation run amok after escaping a research facility.

Ally Sheedy is ingénue-journalist Lori Tanner who gets an inside scoop from an employee of top-secret lab, EMAX. The tipster turns up dead, so Lori along with her producer gain access to the facility and unearth nefarious animal experiments. Lori bonds with the title character, a hulking Tibetan mastiff with anthropomorphic quasi-human eyebrows, named Max, whom she lets out of his cage and lets live with her.

We get a taste of the creature’s capacity for blood-lust when it tracks down a mugger, leaping over shopper carts with Westminster Dog Show abandon. Lassie, this ain’t, and soon the beast is ravaging even humans who don’t deserve, like the poor local postie, as well as Lori’s live-in beau.

Researcher Dr. Jarrett (the perma-scowling Lance Henriksen) lets cops know that a notable lab animal is missing. Jarrett is the founder of EMAX and the creator of this particular pooch, which has bear, tiger and even chameleon DNA spliced into its genetic makeup. It’s Max’s genetic mods which provide the film’s darkest moments of pure hilarity (a large tree is no match for Max, who morphs into verticality mode to torment and then make a meal of, another local pet and yes, Max can camouflage himself).

As audacious and ridiculous as any of its beastly brethren, Man’s Best Friend holds up exceedingly well against some hoary (or is that hairy?) 70s animal attack flicks, like Grizzly or Day of the Animals.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[Listen to our discussion of Man’s Best Friend on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]