I had heard good things about this flick online, but being a long-time watcher of all manner of horror and monster movies, the description on the DVD rental case made me sneer in cynicism. The thought of watching yet another no-talent mess filled with pandering humor and the usual (yawn) gore and (yuck) CGI FX trying real hard to be another "Re-animator", "Evil Dead 2" or "Tremors" just annoyed me to no end, so I put it back. The next time I was there, I must have been in just the right mood, because I recalled having enjoyed a fairly recent one of these called "Feast", which was typical, but outrageously so to such a degree that it elevated itself to being a must-see for genre lovers, so, I rented "Jack Brooks". Boy, am I glad I gave it a chance.
First of all, don't expect a hectic pace from start to finish as in "Feast" or "Evil Dead 2". The plot for this one unfolds more like a typical B-movie, starting with scenes that establish the characters and situation, then escalates the horror elements as the story progresses towards the finale, a story structure more like "Re-animator" or "From Beyond", but with the accent a little more on the humorous side than those 2 worthy films. However, "Jack Brooks" lacks the feeling of inventiveness that those movies had. Speaking of '80s horror classics, the good news here is no cheap CGI effects, but honest-to-goodness monster suits and make-up that you can sink your teeth into. Someone finally got it right when they decided to give us something real rather than a cartoon.
Plot summary: when a child, Jack Brooks witnessed the murder of his family by supernatural creatures, so as an adult, he still has serious anger issues stemming from the trauma of that childhood incident. While going to college with his shrew of a girlfriend and studying under a geeky professor(Robert Englund) and surrounded by idiotic fellow students, he regularly visits a counselor over these aforementioned anger issues. Bear in mind that, despite my descriptions of these characters, they are portrayed mostly realistically by the cast, with a minimum of slapstick. When the professor gets possessed by an evil, supernatural entity, Jack finally comes face-to-face with his childhood fears, and becomes the meanest monster-killin' machine this side of Rotor-rooter.
Englund takes an effectively comic turn as the professor, and much has been made about his performance so I need not get into it; suffice to say that it is very good, although faint echoes of the roach alien from "Men in Black" come to mind. The real star of this movie, though, is the actor who played Jack (his name escapes me. The special features section of the DVD indicates that he was one of the producers thrown in to play Jack at the last minute). Some people here have posted that his acting was bad, because he didn't act like Bruce Campbell or some such. GOOD! The filmmakers have attempted to keep an original feel to their movie and Jack has a personality all his own, one that you can believe, with no quirky, over-the-top shenanigans. From the hollow look in his eyes when he rages to the slightly lost look when confronted with the complexities of day-to-day life that threaten to overwhelm him, this actor is absolutely convincing as the type of guy who might show up at your door to unclog your sink, yet he still manages to amuse, even eliciting a couple of outright laughs from me. Exuding an aura of "everyman", he eventually recruits audience sympathy without ever turning into a clown. We are clearly supposed to see the world from HIS viewpoint, where it is everyone ELSE who is crazy. While Brooks is played straight-faced, it is all the other characters who are played campy. As such, Bruce Campbell would have been woefully wrong for this role, as this is not some attempt to reproduce "Evil Dead 2", and I applaud the producers for taking the high-road and shooting for originality. Also, special mention must go to the actress who wittily, and with subtle camp, portrayed his very irritating girlfriend. The climax itself, while entertaining, feels derivative of some of the more forgettable '80s monster flicks such as "the Brain", or "the Gate". In fact, the whole movie has the feeling of an "origin" story, but is good enough that I look forward to seeing sequals. For this reason, I feel this to be a 4-star movie, but I give it a 5 just to offset the low ratings given by some other reviewers who can't seem to get a horror-comedy that cleverly evokes smiles rather than cheap "laughs", or who can't appreciate a nuanced performance but must have extreme facial contortions as a sign of "zaniness".
Ultimately, when dealing with low-budget B-flicks, one shouldn't expect something that will change the face of film making (although it isn't unheard of). Bear in mind what this is, a cheap but amusing little tribute to the '80s B-movie done with heart, and you will find yourself pleasantly surprised. Highly recommended for genre fans.