Synopsis: Jack Brown, a modern-day inventor, struggles with a medieval monk who’s living in his mind and wants him to rebuild two ancient wings and successfully fly so the monk can be freed from purgatory.
eyelights: the low-budget yet impressive special effects.
eyesores: its plodding nature. the bland cast.
I knew very little about ‘Jack Brown Genius’ going in. The first and only time I saw it was at one of the local indie video store, in the second-hand bin. I was intrigued by the picture, but what caught my eye was that it was co-written by Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh – the duo behind offbeat numbers such as ‘The Frighteners‘ and ‘Heavenly Creatures’ (amongst other things).
Even though Jackson didn’t direct it, he was the film’s producer, and I figured that if he had such a hand in making it, there would be a chance that it would have the flavour of his quirkiest works – especially since it’s also a low-budget picture. I hesitated for a few weeks and, surprisingly, the DVD was still available when I finally decided to take a chance on it.
Clearly, the store wasn’t patronized by Jackson die-hards.
Or perhaps, they already knew something I didn’t: that ‘Jack Brown Genius’ isn’t exactly a lost gem. It isn’t a tosser, either (as evidenced by the three New Zealand Film and Television Awards that is won in 1996), but it lacks the zest and brilliance that makes the best of the Jackson films so much fun to watch. Thankfully, it also lacks the darkness of such fare as ‘Meet the Feebles’.
If anything, it falls into a “Terry Gilliam-light” category: off-beat, original, fantastical, but without the grimness or artistic vision. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the writers had been inspired by the artwork for Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’, which features a man flying out of a file cabinet, donning artificial wings, like a modern-day Icarus. One could easily suggest that they were subconsciously influenced by it.
‘Jack Brown Genius’, however, is very different from ‘Brazil’:
It tells the tale of Jack Brown, a modern-day inventor who becomes inhabited by the spirit of medieval monk who believes he knows how to fly. Having failed in his attempts, the monk’s soul was doomed for eternity because his death was considered a suicide by the powers-that-be. He now has one last chance to prove that he was right and redeem himself: by showing Jack Brown how to fly.
Jack Brown will have to fight for his sanity as his mind harbors the dead monk’s thoughts – all the while producing results for his boss, who is looking to impress Chinese investors with their new invention, a pair of cybernetic enhancers that permits its wearer to leap at great speeds and height. The key to its success: a power amplifier that Jack has devised out of a mere cassette recorder.
To make matters even more complicated, Jack’s best friend’s girlfriend despises him and it’s putting some serious pressure on their friendship. That is, until she eventually starts to see him for what he is, a genius, and falls for him – risking yet again his friendship with his best bud Dennis. Meanwhile, Jack’s boss conspires with his new-found business partner to steal Jack’s invention before their business deal with the Chinese falls through.
‘Jack Brown Genius’ is a zany, madcap farce.
Except that it lacks a certain punch. The cast is good, in that cartoony way that is typical of b-movies, especially Hong Kong films, but they fail to truly amaze, to truly give life to their characters. The story has plenty of elements to keep one interested, and yet it fails to entertain fully, lacking the spark that would make this an unheralded classic. It’s also quirky without being full-out funny.
I basically watched this with a certain disinterest, finding it interesting enough to continue, but not riveting enough to recall much of the experience. The only thing that really stood out was the production’s efforts at making the special effects work during Jack’s demo of the cybernetic device (which had him leaping everywhere), when he got possessed by the monk’s spirit, or when he attempted to fly.
There was this one light show that was low budget but impressive enough that I immediately recalled ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ – even though they are completely different. There was an unusual quality to the lightshow that made me take a breath as I admired the end result; for something that was done on a shoe-string budget and likely without CGI, Jackson’s people at WETA had done something quite splendid to behold.
But that’s pretty much it. If not for the technical side of things, I’d likely forget ‘Jack Brown Genius’ as quickly as it took to watch it. It’s not a terrible motion picture by any standard, and I’m sure that I missed or misunderstood much of its point, but it’s not a film that will likely win anyone over upon first viewing; perhaps after a second or third attempt, it might take flight.
Date of viewing: July 5, 2013