Kirk Douglas and Arnold Schwarzenegger did a movie together? Yeah, I couldn’t believe it at first either. But that’s only the tip the iceberg of bizarreness that is Cactus Jack. It’s also a live-action Road Runner cartoon! So let’s sum this up: “One of the all-time Hollywood greats and the granddaddy of cheesy action movies team up for a live-action road runner cartoon.” How did this movie bypass me for so long?
Douglas (in remarkable shape for 61) wasn’t as a big a star as he once was by the 1970s, so did he take this role due to lack of superior film offerings or was he not ashamed to show that he had a sense of humour about himself as the inept, out of his league outlaw Cactus Jack Slade. It’s also worth noting the relationship he has with his horse named Whiskey parallels to that he shared with a horse of the same name in a previous Kirk Douglas film Lonely are the Brave from 1962 – with the one difference being that the Whiskey in Cactus Jack acts in a cartoonish, anthropomorphic manner.
I’m also not sure if much of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line delivery is supposed to be intentionally or unintentionally funny in the role of the male bimbo Handsome Stranger as he is oblivious to the sexual advances of Ann Margret’s Charming Jones. The scene in which Handsome narrates a flashback about when he tried to stop a bunch of runaway horses from injuring women, children and old men while trying his hardest to emote cracks me up.
The main problem with Cactus Jack is that the jokes are very hit and miss, from well-timed gems to moments of head-scratching awkwardness. At 85 minutes it’s already a short movie but even then it could have trimmed down to meet the requirements of its high concept premise. The roadrunner inspired gags are undoubtedly the highlight as Jack pulls props and elaborate setups out of thin air. By far my favourite gag is the classic painting a tunnel onto the side of a rock; having this gag in a cartoon is funny itself, however, I find having it played out in live-action is even funnier in the sense that I couldn’t believe they were doing a live-action rendition of this joke, having me pondering if that the carriage would really go through that painted tunnel.
On the other hand, other slapstick gags in the film don’t make a whole heap of sense even within the film’s cartoon world nor appear to have a clear method as to what Cactus Jack is trying to do in order to take down Handsome Stranger and Charming. Likewise, Cactus Jack is not a film that is particularly well-directed although a sleeker project would have less charm. This is the type of film I can watch more than once based purely on its novelty value and I’m happy it exists, even in its very flawed state.