This review was corrected on June 6, 2001.
Before Dimension’s “Spy Kids” could rake in big numbers at the box office, young viewers were primed for junior James Bond-style action and adventure with a clever show called “The Famous Jett Jackson” on the Mouse’s cable net. “Jett Jackson: The Movie,” the Disney Channel’s first two-hour primetime movie based on a series in three seasons, isn’t the beginning of the end of the series but rather a reaffirmation of an extremely entertaining concept. The show within a show, based on characters developed by Fracaswell Hyman, explores the adventures of a 16-year-old TV star who moves the production of his hit high-tech thriller “Silverstone” back to the small North Carolina town of Wilsted.
By sticking close to home, Jett (Lee Thompson Young) attempts to straddle the line between teen superstar and just plain teen. It doesn’t always work. In this movie version, as Jett faces the big events of junior year in high school, he finds the demands of work and school even more challenging. He also worries that after playing the suave action hero for so long, people can’t separate him from his TV character.
“I don’t even know who I am any more,” Jett laments to his best friend J.B. (Ryan Sommers Baum), who glibly replies, “Maybe you should read Teen Weekly. They just did an in-depth profile on you.” When the studio pressures him to sign a contract to do three more years of the show, Jett balks at the idea.
Meanwhile, Jett’s small screen alter-ego, Silverstone, is having his own existential crises. Raised by operatives from Mission Omega Matrix, Silverstone longs for regular family and friends but is called to action to take on the evil Dr. Kragg (Michael Ironside). Kragg has been performing dangerous transdimensional experiments and has threatened to take over the world.
A freak accident involving a can of soda and the space/time continuum set prop mysteriously transports Jett into Silverstone’s world and the action star into Wilsted.
Writer Bruce Kalish is careful to remain faithful to the tone of the show, even if that means hasty resolutions and contrived plot devices. Still, pic is not meant to be even remotely close to reality, but does manage to get its message across. Fans of the show will no doubt enjoy what feels like an expanded and very expensive episode of the series, especially when it comes to the long-awaited romance between Jett and Kayla (Kerry Duff). As Jett, Young serves as an appealing role model, much like Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer –someone who can fulfill young, action craving audiences without the gratuitous violence. There’s a sense of empowerment associated with these sort of roles, and handled correctly, they function as an excellent allegory for the confusing teenage years.
Director Shawn Levy does a nice job of providing the action with a minimum amount of aggression, an approach most impressively executed in an imaginative, meticulously choreographed playground fight sequence. Ironside’s Dr. Kragg appearance is brief but effective, although scene-stealer status belongs to Baum as J.B., Nigel Shawn Williams as Artemus and the lovely Montrose Hagins as Miz Coretta.
Set design features the usual Disney look of sound-lot perfection, but the slick appearance works with the plot. Technical credits are superb, featuring flawless morphing sequences and martial arts special effects reminiscent of those in “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”