I'm a big fan of Australian crime drama, with the various iterations of "Underbelly" being among my favorite programs of recent years (if you've never heard of them, check them out immediately). I am also a fan of actor Guy Pearce. Seeing his early film career in diverse roles such as "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," "L.A. Confidential," and "Memento," I just knew he was going to be a major talent. Truthfully, though, in the next decade Pearce has developed into more of a character actor. That's not a stinging insult, he is often the best thing about the projects he is featured in (just sometimes the projects leave a lot to be desired). But I was really looking forward to him taking the reins in this series of TV movies produced in Australia. In Set One of "Jack Irish," you get two TV movies produced in 2012: Bad Debts and Black Tide. They just wrapped another Jack Irish mystery, Dead Point, slated to hit airwaves in 2014 so presumably they are hoping to make a Set Two DVD release at some point in the future.
Based on the novels of Peter Temple, Jack Irish is a laconic breed of crime investigator. He's not particularly expressive, but that doesn't keep him from finding trouble. Or maybe it finds him. In tone, these reminded me a bit of the stellar Jesse Stone series with Tom Selleck (I'll get back to the comparison in a bit). As an up-and-coming lawyer, his life is completely upended. Dropping out of polite society, he now spends his time with dubious company doing collections for a questionable bookie (Roy Billing, so great in Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities) and his henchman (Aaron Pederson, my favorite character in the series). In my opinion, this continuing relationship is the most intriguing part of "Jack Irish." Unfortunately, I just didn't find either of the mysteries particularly involving or unique. The same might be said for Jesse Stone (I told you I'd come back), but with Stone you're invested into a real sense of community with Paradise and the supporting cast. Irish isn't nearly as grounded and it's not always believable that a rumpled Pearce (he looks homeless and has no real authority) would get everyone to open up to him.
Bad Debts (3 Stars): Serving as the series introduction, we start out with the character back story and the beginning is quite traumatic. Soon, however, we settle into a rather mundane mystery. An old client turns up dead after having tried to reach Irish, and this brings up questions about a hit-and-run conviction many years in the past. New evidence just might unravel a heinous conspiracy involving the usual suspects of bad cops, corrupt politicians and unscrupulous businessmen. I have seen this exact same plot (I won't say exactly what it is here) played out so many times, it simply lacked any surprise. None of the potential bad guys are defined in very much detail so when everything was concluding, I simply didn't care very much or feel close to the action. A love interest (Marta Dusseldorp) is thrown in for good measure. The two have good chemistry, but the screenplay just puts them together without any real preamble or build-up. Only two scenes stuck out for me: the introduction and a rather grisly discovery at about the halfway point.
Black Tide (3 1/2 Stars): I might just as easily have awarded this four stars, but it does suffer from some of the same issues as its predecessor. Once again, the plot line just felt a bit tired. I've seen many similar stories and played to more extravagance. Irish is contacted by an old friend of his father whose son has gone missing. As he starts to look into the matter, he once again gets drawn into a grand conspiracy involving a potential government cover-up of something called Black Tide. As he pursues any available lead, he discovers that the case is connected to a missing operative and a murdered reporter. Despite the major revelations, Irish still has time for some romance. Obviously his lack of expression and continually disheveled appearance is like catnip to the women! This movie is once again distinguished by a great scene involving (yet another) grisly discovery. What does bump it up though is the finale which is pleasantly loopy. KGHarris, 10/13.