Initial excitement about Robbie Coltrane reprising his role as the BBC’s flawed, boozing, womanizing criminal psychologist is snowed under by the heavy-handed political statement writer Jimmy McGovern is determined to deliver within this revival vidpic. Jolting at first in its message — namely, that Americans are a bunch of whiny namby-pambies who didn’t care a whit about terrorism before it came crashing onto our doorstep — McGovern’s chest-clearing rant overwhelms the narrative and mutes the pleasure of seeing Fitz back on the case.
A decade has passed since Coltrane’s Fitz developed a well-deserved cult following in the U.S. that included a short-lived ABC series that (poorly) sought to adapt the character for domestic consumption. Here, we find him visiting the U.K. from Australia for his daughter’s wedding, being every bit as pugnacious as ever, when he’s drawn back by an unsolved murder.
Ah, but what a case, involving a former British soldier, Kenny (Anthony Flanagan), haunted by his experiences in Northern Ireland. Irate over the U.S. response to 9/11 and the “War on Terror” — which he sees as having caused people to forget what happened with the IRA — Kenny goes on a drinking binge and lashes out by brutally slaying an American comedian. His anger unleashed, he begins to fantasize about further killings, while Fitz zeroes in on his pathology.
Slow going at the start, as Fitz grapples with aging and an eagerness to work seemingly motivated by a desire to avoid his wife (Stefanie Willmore), the crime plot proves especially nasty and more than a little cliched. Kenny, for example, works on the police force now, placing him in the loop regarding a potential witness who might hold the key to locating him.
Big, beefy and brainy, Coltrane’s Fitz remains fascinating, but frankly, his brand of troubled crimefighter is far less distinctive now than when he made his debut in the early ’90s. Moreover, Fitz disappears for long stretches as we peer over the killer’s shoulder, allowing him to vent McGovern’s barely veiled indictment of U.S. foreign policy and the collective emotional response to Sept. 11.
Whatever one thinks of that point of view (and it’s unlikely to win him many friends across the pond), McGovern and director Antonia Bird hammer the point home so bluntly there’s the distasteful whiff of being force-fed a political diatribe — peddling an op-ed piece under the guise of the “Cracker” name. It’s as if that crime drama you went to see were suddenly replaced a lecture.
For all the gripping psychological crimers churned out by the BBC, “Cracker’s” “new terror” actually reflects an old showbiz excess — something called a “vanity project.”