Image Credit: Ed Araquel/SyfyIs there an actor who can do no wrong in your eyes? An actor who can entice you to watch anything that might be on television, no matter how dubious? Whose mere presence can make even a mediocre if not downright lousy “entertainment experience” seem at least somewhat worthwhile? For me, there is one anwer to all those questions: “No. But Victor Garber comes to close.” Garber is most famous for playing Jack Bristow, super-spy father to super-spy Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) in the J.J. Abrams spy-fi series Alias. His intensely taciturn yet deceptively warm performance–part James Bond, part Ward Cleaver–earned Garber three Emmy nominations and produced some truly memorable pop moments for me, like the time he tortured Joey Slotnick with a vise and a squirt bottle of laundry detergent and then shot him in the head. Ever since Alias ended its run in 2006, if I should be channel surfing and stumble upon Garber in something, I’ll say to myself “Hey, Self! It’s Jack Bristow from Alias! Wasn’t that episode where he shot Joey Slotnick in the head awesome? What’s this new thing he’s in? Let’s watch for a few minutes…”
And so it goes that I have watched a few more minutes of a great many things that I wouldn’t have otherwise watched–Eli Stone on the high end; The Last Templar on the low; that barely-there guest-turn in that one episode of Glee somewhere in the middle–simply because of Victor Garber. And then there’s the kick I get out of seeing anew things that Victor Garber did before I became truly Victor Garber-aware thanks to Alias. James Cameron’s Titanic is now that much cooler to me, knowing that the guy who played the guy who designed the ship–and then went down with it–was the same guy who shot Joey Slotnick in the head. And Victor Garber once played Liberace?!?! But of course he did! He’s Victor freakin’ Garber, star of stage and screen! He can do anything–even sing George Michael tunes! Which just makes his achievement as Jack Bristow even more impressive to me.
Tonight, Victor Garber will lend his visage and talent to a unit of programming on SyFy entitled Ice Quake. It’s the latest in the network’s line of schlocky-fun sci-fi/catastrophe flicks, this one tailor made for the holidays. Many people find these cheeky SyFy extravaganzas entertaining because of their fun schlockyness; me, not so much. Yet I found Ice Quake to be amusing for two reasons: the absurdly funny spectacle of the opening sequence, which has a guy in a Santa Claus suit on a snowmobile trying to outrun that catastrophic consequences of an earthquake that shakes an icy mountain (hence, “Ice Quake,” one of many in the film); and Victor Garber. He plays Colonel Hughes, who runs an Army Corps. of Engineers facility near Fairbanks, Alaska. He’s Jack Bristow-lite, a commanding authority figure whose austerity is ameliorated by a palpable paternal quality; I liked to imagine this is how Sydney’s father would have spent his retirement… had he not blown himself up to stop that wretched Arvin Sloan once and for all in the final episode of Alias. Garber offers an exquisitely modulated performance, and by that, I mean he does and gives exactly what is required and necessary to make his character credible, and not one bit more. It’s one of those Ed Harris-in-Apollo 13 parts in which his military character is stuck on a mission control-type set the entire movie. It is a performance that defines the word “solid” when we entertainment journalists use the word “solid” to describe a performance. The moment where he barks orders into a phone: Solid. The other moment where he barks orders into a phone: Solid. The moment where he takes a sip from a Santa Claus mug and takes stock of the growing crisis by declaring “I don’t like how this is heading up” and then sighs huffily: Solid. The moment where he beholds the terror of multiple ice quake tremors on a computer screen and then tells his troops “Lets get to work!”: Solid–and inspiring! And that’s just the first 18 minutes! Can Col. Hughes and his team of Army geeks–working in tandem with the film’s ostensible hero, a geologist who got stuck on Ice Quake Mountain with his family while hunting for a Christmas tree–find the underlying cause of the tremors and neutralize it before global calamity ensues? Such is the story.
But just when you think Garber is glumly phoning in a paycheck job, there comes a sequence when he again sips from that Santa mug and takes another phone call, this time from a “nutjob” science professor, whose nerdy-jerky air and hair-challenged noggin evokes a certain JoeySlotnickness. Jack Bristow–er, I mean, Col. Hughes rips into him with enough smirk and snark to make me think that Garber actually enjoyed himself while making this movie. And if Victor Garber can enjoy Ice Quake, by golly, so can I! It all culminates with a tense final act in which Garber helps save the day–explosively, too, just like Jack Bristow did at the end of Alias!–and gets the movie’s best line: “Well, that’s that. I could really use an eggnog.”
And so it goes that I recommend Ice Quake for its Victor Garber. Long may he work–in anything. (But ideally better things. And how about a new TV series for this actor?) (And in all fairness to Ice Quake, an altogether genial, all-ages entertainment, I would also recommend it to the “family film” crowd. My young, not-yet-jaded kids got a kick out of it.) Your turn, Popwatchers. Is there an actor you’ll watch in anything? What’s the lamest movies/TV show you’ve watched because of that loyalty and affection? The message boards are yours.
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