Consider this the arthouse version of The Butterfly Effect, complete with Oscar(tm)-winning actors and a much poorer script.
Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq. After surviving what should have been a fatal head wound, Starks winds up with a life sentence in an insane asylum for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In an attempt to reprogram Starks’ “criminal” mind at the asylum, Dr. Thomas Becker (Kris Kristofferson) tries an experimental technique: a hallucinogenic cocktail injection followed by solitary confinement in a morgue drawer strapped into a full-body straight jacket. What Dr. Becker doesn’t know is that every time Starks’ is placed in the drawer, he’s somehow free in a future fifteen years later.
Is he imagining it? Is he really in the future? Do we really care? The first mistake The Jacket makes is to paint such a bleak view of Starks’ character that it’s incredibly hard to care about him at all. Even when the “treatment” starts, we learn nothing more about the person who is supposedly the main character; the story glosses over the man to deal with the phenomenon. Before the beginning of his ordeal, it isn’t clear if Starks even cares if he lives himself, so why whould we?
When it comes to the subject of wilfull time travel, The Butterfly Effect managed to combine exploring the mystery of the character along with the characters themselves; when we reach the conclusion, there’s plenty of reasons given to care about what happens to everyone. In contrast, The Jacket neglects exploring its premise in favor of telling a story, but the mystery of Brody’s character is never really resolved while Keira Knightly’s character is a shadowy cliche. While the story is well told, it just doesn’t carry enough weight since we know almost nothing about these characters other than what we experience with them.
Adrien Brody has already made a career of playing “the weird guy” and The Jacket is no exception; too bad the script doesn’t let him develop a character. Keira Knightley plays the adult version of a child Brody’s character meets in his past, but the first time we meet her is completely different than every time thereafter (and no, Starks hasn’t “changed” anything yet); like Starks, the characters seem to there to serve the story, but without characterization it just doesn’t seem to matter. Kris Kristofferson looks like he’s reprising his role from Millennium, but doesn’t have much to do other than look a mean old man.
The Jacket has an interesting premise, but the presentation and execution kills what little chance the story had right from the start. Knightly’s partial nudity and Brody’s creepy close-ups are wasted here as nothing more than gimmicks; if you haven’t seen it, rent The Butterfly Effect to see how The Jacket should have been done.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)