Heat Vision and Jack (1999)

Not available on video.

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Bottle Rocket

Shanghai Knights

Laser Mission

Charlie's Angels

Heat Vision and Jack

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Our rating: four LAVA® motion lamps.

Easy-Bake Rider.
"Apparently the human mind is not unlike cookie dough," says former NASA astronaut Jack Austin. "Mine was 'baked' by the sun, causing it to rise, increasing its cognitive capacity. Now I'm up to three times smarter than the smartest men in the world."

Austin (the irrepressible Jack Black) roams the country astride Heat Vision ("the motorcycle with the mind of Jack's unemployed roommate," voiced by Owen Wilson), stumbling upon the scenes of very unusual crimes. As he solves each crime in turn, Jack also eludes the grasp of Ron Silver (Ron Silver), who pursues Jack as an agent of NASA. The space agency, naturally, wants to dissect his brain and find out what makes him so darn smart. But you probably don't need this synopsis, as the hit series Heat Vision and Jack has been delighting audiences with its outrageous wit for the past five years.

"I admit it, I was in Waterworld,
Bio-Dome and The Cable Guy!
Please don't drop me into the sun!"
. . . or so this review might have read if Fox had not decided to pass on Heat Vision and Jack, leaving us with only the half-hour pilot and dreams of what might have been. The pilot was produced in 1999, apparently intended for the fall 1999 season. This one episode, cheekily titled "Episode #14 - The Eyes of Paragon" was directed by Ben Stiller, who also appears in a short prologue complaining about the injustice inherent in the cancellation of his Emmy-winning series The Ben Stiller Show.

Heat Vision and Jack is a parody of the awful 1980s action series that plagued prime-time television and shaped the minds of our generation, which explains more than a few things about the world. Jack's origin recalls Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, while his fugitive status and the temporary nature of his powers evokes The Incredible Hulk. Heat Vision, of course, embodies K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider and all those other sentient inanimate objects that defined the decade of materialism. But while K.I.T.T. was super-competent -- so competent that you wondered why they didn't just replace the emotional and unreliable Michael Knight with a helper monkey -- Heat Vision is about as useful to Jack as suspenders to a snake.

"C'mon Jack! Timmy fell down a well!"
In the pilot an alien called Paragon transmits himself to Earth and takes over the body of Frank, a short order cook played by Vincent Schiavelli. (A neat running gag would have been to hire Schiavelli to play the villain in every episode, but now we're really fantasizing.) Paragon can kill any human (whom he calls "monkey sluts") just by looking at them. A suitably ridiculous rationalization involving Paragon extracting the water molecules of his targets through their optic nerves serves to explain how he can reduce a person to a pile of dust in mere seconds. Jack can resist Paragon's eye-beams for a few crucial seconds by virtue of his superior brain, which makes absolutely no sense but it keeps our hero alive in his first confrontation with the evil alien. Though Jack is initially detained by the attractive town Sheriff (Christine Taylor) as a suspect, she soon realizes that his outlandish claims are true and helps him fight off both Paragon and Ron Silver, who has once again tracked Jack down.

"No, I'm Ron Silver.
Roy Scheider was the guy in Jaws."
One wonders if Heat Vision and Jack might have been picked up if the pilot had been produced after Owen Wilson's star-making turn opposite Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon or, perhaps more significantly, after Jack Black's breakout success in the Tenacious D series and School of Rock. The acting styles haven't changed; Black still projects that same aura of total self-absorption, though the Austin character is slightly more adult than his more recent guitar-strumming roles. It is also somehow reassuring that even though Owen Wilson is playing a motorcycle in Heat Vision and Jack, he doesn't vary his adolescently lecherous stoner shtick one bit for this role.

So that's what it looks like
when Irish eyes are smilin'.
Even if a studio were enthusiastic about producing the series, however, we have to wonder if the concept could have been stretched further than a few episodes. Sure, there are plenty of goofy plot lines from the old series to regurgitate in comedic fashion, but many of the jokes stem from more general observations about the genre. Once those jokes are exhausted, what happens? Do the writers simply move from sub-genre to sub-genre, making as many jokes as they can about the conventions of each? A script draft for the pilot mentions that the opening credits would have featured a shot of Austin engaged in a swordfight with the Devil, so perhaps the series was going to pull from a wider range of material to parody than the first episode might otherwise indicate. Still, even such a fantastic approach might work for a season, but sooner or later the series would have to start providing an actual story arc for its principals, and we suspect that's even harder to do in a comedy than in a straight drama.

Even so, if each episode were only half as entertaining as the pilot, it would still beat the pants off most of the programming that airs these days.

Review date: 03/18/2004

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