Cracker: White Ghost

White Ghost writ. Paul Abbot, dir. Richard Standeven

star. Robbie Coltrane as Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald

Lawrence Russell

Hong Kong. A young Englishman blows his business and his relationship with his Chinese girlfriend during the countdown to the Bejing takeover of the Colony, goes on a killing spree, and Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald just happens to be around to take control. So with its exotic locale and symbolist plot-line, this TV movie revisit to the Cracker series is both ambitious and charming... but you have to say its left-of-centre apology for the imperialist delusion lacks the bite and bonafide psychology that made the series such an original, educational experience.

Fitz is on a lecture tour, doing what he does best: abusing the audience in the plural while performing in the singular. "You're filth," he says to Dennis Philby, this episode's psychopath, and disgrace to Anglican culture. "Failed In London, Try Hong Kong."

Indeed Dennis Philby (Barnaby Kay) is a bad boy who is characterized with the name of an infamous traitor. He murders his Chinese business partner, locks his pregnant Chinese girlfriend in a steel shipping container, then goes around murdering anyone who interferes with his fantasy of himself. His m.o. is amusing, if a bit contrived -- the victims are found with their hands bound together in an attitude of Christian prayer. In this regard the writer Paul Abbot attempts to reconcile the script with the heresies of the original series writer, Jimmy McGovern.

Nonetheless, some scenes are pretty good. For example, the bizarre wedding in the container, where Dennis acts as both the groom and minister, forcing his captive sweetheart Su Lin (Liu Jo Yung) to marry him in a false ceremony for false citizenship and false possession.

Yet Fitz seems emasculated -- and this isn't just because he's in a different environment. The only real interrogation scene comes close to the climax, and is too slow and unconvincing in its attempt to recreate The Father, the Son and The Holy Ghost as the motivating paradigm behind Dennis Philby's desperate actions. That he wants to take Su Lin's baby back to England to reinvent his father's family in a guilt-driven pathology for his cheating mother is... preposterous. In Ghost, Fitz's act is reduced to parody. D.C.I. Janet Cheung (Freda Foh Shen) is dead right when she says his university lecture is "under-researched, over-personalized bullshit."

But what else can you expect from a cheelo (a white ghost)? The Anglos are all bad, close to incompetence. With no attempt to understand history, the writer abandons Thatcher and embraces Blair. The top Hong Kong cop, Cdr. Gordon Ellison (Michael Pennington), is a one-dimensional bigot whose values are simplistically political. D.C.I. Wise who flies in from Manchester to help Fitz with the investigation is included merely as a visual prop -- something to remind us that Robbie Coltrane isn't acting in another movie.

Perhaps the sub-text is too ambitious and the characterizations assumed. Perhaps the editing fails to match the series montage of rapid cut and image shock. Perhaps Fitz has passed through menopause.

When the pursuit sequences use a music score that sounds suspiciously like the Charley's Angels theme, then you know this isn't really Cracker and the producers are thinking U.S.A....

©LR 2/2000

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