For all its energy and seeming inventiveness, The Jacket doesn't really go anywhere or amount to anything - a fatal flaw in a time-travel movie designed not only to keep you guessing, but to build genuine suspense as well.
Adrien Brody, still looking for that worthy follow-up to his Oscar win for The Pianist, is Jack Starks, an American soldier shot in the head while on duty in Iraq during the gulf war. He survives, but now finds himself prone to hallucinations and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sometime later, a cold winter day finds him hitchhiking aimlessly along the back roads of Vermont. Then two things happen: He meets a young girl and her drunken mother, and helps them get her car started; and he gets a ride from a guy in a truck who later kills a cop.
Blamed for the murder, Starks is committed to a psychiatric hospital. There, he comes under the "care" of sadistic Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), who - in the name of effecting a cure - pumps him full of drugs, wraps him up in a straitjacket and shoves him inside a morgue drawer for hours at a time.
But things aren't so bad inside that drawer. While he's in there, Starks is transported forward in time to 2007, where he finds Jackie, the little girl he helped, now all grown up (into Keira Knightley, trying too hard to seem sullen and American) and looking for love. But he also uncovers the disturbing news that, back in the present, he's about to die.
Oh, what's he to do? That's a good question; sometimes, he seems preoccupied with saving himself, sometimes he seems intent on easing Jackie's unhappiness by fiddling with her past, sometimes he seems prepared to make like an avenging angel, settling the score with those who done him wrong way back when.
All this seems headed toward some wow-'em resolution, but it never really gets there. The screenplay, by Massy Tadjedin (from a story by Tom Bleecker and Mark Rocco), rarely takes time to develop anything, instead simply allowing things to happen. There's something to be said for avoiding sci-fi jargon and not obsessing over contrived explanations of how such time travel happens, but people swallow the impossible pretty easily in the film. As for Starks' demise, it only works if no one at the mental hospital has heard of first aid.
Brody makes his character believable, all nervous ticks and festering desperation, but his performance is undermined by director John Maybury's love of high-speed camera tricks. Whenever time is traveled, the camera speeds up, the soundtrack gets scratchy, the film gets overexposed. It's a neat visual the first time, but one's appreciation wears thin the fifth or sixth.
The Jacket has some neat ideas, but labors under the mistaken notion that ideas are enough. They aren't, and no amount of camera trickery or acting wizardry can hide that.
Starring Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley
Directed by John Maybury
Rated R (violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity)
Released by Warner Independent Pictures
Sun Score **