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‘Lightning Jack’ (PG-13)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 14, 1994

"Lightning Jack" is yet another crock of Paul Hogan, last barely seen in the awful "Almost an Angel." Seeking once again the big American dollars that fell his way after " 'Crocodile' Dundee," Hogan has cast himself as Lightning Jack Kane, an ersatz cowboy with an ego as big as his native Australia. His accent remains essentially unexplained in this Mild West fantasy, and if you don't favor "g'days," you may want to avoid the film entirely since Jack's partner in crime, Ben Doyle (Cuba Gooding Jr.), is mute. That requires nonstop monologues from the leather-faced Jack, and a lot Hogan's weathered voice goes a little way.

Ostensibly a comedy, "Lightning Jack" follows the slapstick travails of Jack and Ben as the former tries to establish and then live up to a pulp reputation while teaching the latter the finer points of outlawing. Jack, of course, is an outlaw legend mostly in his own mind, a deadeye shot who nonetheless needs granny glasses to read tabloid reports of his failed exploits. In truth, Jack's a wanting man: wanting desperately to be taken seriously.

Poor Ben! He's taken hostage by Jack in a bungled bank robbery and proves just as inept on the other side of a six-shooter: In his first robbery, Ben shoots himself in the foot. Along the way, of course, Jack does teach Ben to shoot, rob banks, ride a horse and make love (the last two apparently interchangeable). Despite being hunted by Indians and vigilantes, they prepare for one last job ... only to find another gang ahead of them in line! Zany, eh?

Actually, not. The script, by Hogan and for Hogan, is low on laughs: no "Blazing Saddles" here. As for Hogan the actor, he is best taken in small doses, not overdoses. The supporting cast features some decent names (Beverly D'Angelo as the madam with the heart of gold, Pat Hingle and L.Q. Jones as sheriffs) but indecent performances. None, however, is as troubling as Gooding's. Ben's muteness requires Gooding to accentuate physical shtick, which is not his forte. Worse, it requires him to resort to bug-eyed Stepin Fetchit routines that were politically incorrect 50 years ago.

As for director Simon Wincer, it's hard to believe he was responsible for "Lonesome Dove" (and, more recently, "Free Willy"). "Lightning Jack" feels like a film you might stumble across late at night on the USA Network. When they bury it in video, the tombstone will read "G'bye."

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