Judge Bryan Pope says Mr. Nipples is a brave little moo cow.
I'm the itch you can't scratch, the gas you can't pass.
Unless you're one of the five people on the planet who didn't blink and miss Jack of All Trades during its original, short-lived run back in 2000, you probably wrote it off as another Hercules/Xena knockoff. Ambitious in concept (if not execution), and long on laughs (if not production values), this Sam Raimi-produced trifle keeps its tongue—and whatever else will fit—firmly planted in cheek.
Facts of the Case
Jack of All Trades: The Complete Series contains 22 episodes spread over three discs.
• "Sex and the Single Spy"
• "The Floundering Father"
• "Once You Go Jack…"
• "The People's Dragoon"
• "Raging Bully"
• "Daddy Dearest"
• "One Wedding and an Execution"
• "Dead Woman Walking"
• "Love Potion No. 10"
• "Up the Creek"
• "X Marquis the Spot"
• "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Opera"
• "A Horse of a Different Color"
• "Shark Bait"
• "The Morning After"
• "Croquey in the Pokey"
• "One, Two, Three, Give Me Lady Liberty'
• "Seventy Brides for One Brother"
As Jack Stiles himself might have said: Yank my doodle; this show's a dandy! Following in the footsteps of his own Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, Raimi and cult superstar/partner-in-crime Bruce Campbell have again merged an irreverent sense of humor with a period adventure story and peppered it with pop culture references. This time, though, the joke's on early nineteenth-century world history, and the result is a comedy that is absurd, vulgar, and offensive—but also self-aware, kinda sexy and just darn funny.
Jack's writers have no end of fun concocting their own versions of major historical events (learn how the U.S. really sealed the deal on the Louisiana Purchase and why France so generous gifted us with Lady Liberty), and they can't keep from flinging mud at famous names. No one is sacred, not even our beloved Ben Franklin ("I cut the string on Franklin to keep him from frying his fat ass."). And nobody gets skewered more viciously than Napoleon Bonaparte…but more on him in a moment.
Like Hercules and Xena, Jack was filmed entirely on location in New Zealand. But heaven knows why it refuses to use the region's natural beauty to its advantage. Actually, we do know, which brings up the one qualm I have with Jack. The series is quaint, unable to escape an obviously meager budget. This is most apparent in the colorful but cheap-looking sets and costumes that have all the authenticity of a Six Flags stage show. So laughable are the third-rate special effects (the menacing mechanical shark was a particular favorite of mine) that they become part of Jack's peculiar charm. In fact, they're so charming that we're willing to forgive.
What we can't forgive is watching a concept so grand (c'mon, this is the French Revolution we're talking about) get whittled down into all-too-brief 22-minute episodes. Excepting for a few fun but expendable episodes ("X Marquis the Spot" springs quickly to mind, with its amusing but bawdy sidestep into an S&M fantasy land), Jack begs to be a giant, sprawling adventure series of epic proportions. It certainly has enough bigger-than-life characters to support it.
The main attraction, of course, is Campbell, who has been given full license to indulge his every whim and an arsenal of deliciously quotable dialogue ("I would have knocked, but my fist had other plans."). When he's not dropping naughty bon mots as wiseacre Jack, he's flittering around, sword in hand, as the masked Scarlet Pimper…that is, the Daring Dragoon. And when he gamely dons a wig, dress and heels as Emilia's mother, the result is a hilarious, ghastly creation. She's like the lovechild of Bette Midler and Herman Munster.
Angela Marie Dotchin's no-guff, unapologetically British Emilia takes a little more warming up to, but before long she's coasting along on Campbell's cool vibe. Decked out in low-cut period gowns and decidedly non-period form-fitting, black bodysuits, she's easy on the eyes, and the writers give her enough zingers to make her a worthy foil for Campbell. Case in point:
Jack (manning Emilia's pedal-powered submarine): Why am I doing all the
work while you sit there drinking tea?
Of course, the French Revolution wouldn't be complete without an appearance or two by Napoleon himself. The infamous French emperor is written here as a lascivious letch with major little-man syndrome, and the tiny Verne Troyer gives the already high-energy show an extra shot of adrenaline with a performance that's as mean-spirited, weird and daffy as his Mini-Me was in the Austin Powers universe. Stealing scenes from Campbell is no easy feat, but steal them Troyer does, no more so than during his "One, Two, Three, Give Me Lady Liberty" climactic football smackdown.
Yes, football. And that's just one of the many dizzying instances of sublime silliness written into this series. I especially liked some of the throwaway gags, like books titled So You Want to be a Governor and The Idiot's Guide to French Oppression. And fun riffs on Planet of the Apes and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And don't forget the loquacious French carrier parrot, Jean-Claude. Oh, and Mr. Nipples.
Intrigued? You should be.
Universal brings the complete series to DVD in a handsome package that finds the show nicely presented in its original full-frame format with its bright color palette well preserved. Audio is a serviceable Dolby stereo (English track only). English subtitles provided.
Shame on Universal for putting this Jack in a box with no extras. Campbell is a hugely likeable performer with a razor-sharp wit, and he should be contractually obligated to provide a commentary if he's the star of the show. Or if he's one of the show's producers. Or if he just happens to live next door to the craft services guy. Sorry, folks. Guess you'll just have to pull out Campbell's now-classic Evil Dead commentaries and imagine what might have been.
Silly to the extreme, but a harmless, rollicking good time, Jack of All Trades will have you grinning from ear to ear. Recommended.
Not guilty by reason of being insanely funny. Vive la resistance!
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