Lightning Jack (1994)

Paul Hogan in Lightning Jack (1994)

Lightning Doesn't Strike Even Once

I love me a good western but as a rule I care little for comedy westerns because more often than not they fail. You see the problem is that westerns by nature are either dramatic or tough and so to turn that into a comedy dilutes what they are about, the only time they really work is when they go all out comedy to the point of being spoof like. That brings me to "Lightning Jack" another comedy western which for me fails because all it does is dilute a western storyline with gags many of which are as old as time itself. The one thing it has going for it is that it stars Paul Hogan basically being Paul Hogan in the Wild West as beyond that, beyond his turn of phrase it is dull.

After a bank robbery goes wrong Lightning Jack (Paul Hogan - Crocodile Dundee II) finds himself as a one man band trying to pull of bank robberies on his own in the hope of becoming headline news. It is how he meets Ben (Cuba Gooding Jr. - Judgment Night) who he takes hostage unaware that the young man whilst smart as a button is mute. They become unlikely buddies with Jack teaching Ben how to rob banks which is not straight forwards for the good hearted young man.

Cuba Gooding Jr. in Lightning Jack (1994)

Let me tell you why "Lightning Jack" doesn't work and that is because it puts comedy before story but doesn't do it to the point that it becomes spoof. It makes it a procession through a slim storyline which is splattered with more obvious gags than you will see if you watched a whole weekend of comedy westerns. As such whilst we have the quirky buddy relationship of Jack and Ben with Ben unable to talk and being a bit wet behind the ears plus a story which evolves around the Marshal trying to capture Lightning Jack what the focus is on is all the set pieces. It is why it makes it a dull procession because nothing happens, after one gag we get some time filling scenes before the next gag arrives.

As to the gags well as I said they are as old as time itself so when Jack thinks he has been bitten by a rattle snake and needs Ben to suck out the venom it is obvious that the gag is that the bite is supposedly on Jack's bum. It is far too obvious what the joke is before it comes as is the case when Jack decides to make Ben a man and takes him in to a saloon to have a woman. I could go on because pretty much ever gag is so obvious that you can often spot them before they are even set up.

What this means is that "Lightning Jack" relies heavily on the likeability of Paul Hogan to make it work and what that really means is that we have Hogan playing "Croc Dundee" but in the Wild West with his straight forward Aussie turn of phrase and attitude. There are some other gags such as Jack being embarrassed because he needs glasses in order to read the press clippings which he loves to collect but these play second fiddle to Hogan being Hogan. As for Cuba Gooding Jr. well whilst he is good at doing visual humour the fact the entire movie relies on him being mute and having to visualise what he means makes it more excruciating than funny with his need to constantly mug.

What this all boils down to is that "Lightning Jack" works as a vehicle for Paul Hogan to play Paul Hogan in another situation but beyond that it is a struggle and just another comedy western which demonstrates why the two genres often fail when thrown together.