Country singer Billy Ray Cyrus became an international star when his “Achy Breaky Heart” captured the zeitgeist in 1992 and began to pursue an acting career a few years later.
Now best known as the father of Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray made his starring debut alongside Dedee Pfeiffer (best known as the sister of Michelle) in the independently made Radical Jack in 2000.
He's unrecognisable when his character is introduced, sitting at a bar, unshaven in a bandana, sunglasses and dirty jeans. But after a brief scuffle, a pointless chase and a little exposition, he's tidied himself up again and headed undercover in a small town, working as a bar tender in order to track down the man who killed his family.
Cyrus has surprisingly few scenes in his leading role as CIA agent Jack Reynolds (codename: Radical) and not a great deal of dialogue in the film as a whole. While he’s supposed to be the hero it appears the makers were not inclined to burden him too greatly in his first starring role. The majority of the acting is left to Pfeiffer, whose sub-plot is completely unnecessary. At one point he’s beaten up and spends a significant portion of the film in bed waiting for Pfeiffer to throw herself at him.
Written and directed by James Allen Bradley, Radical Jack is little more than a cheap rip-off of the Steven Seagal movie Fire Down Below (Félix Enríquez Alcalá, 1997). In that film country singers (Kris Kristofferson and Randy Travis) were the villains and the action scenes were decent, but the most interesting difference to note is that while Seagal contributed to the soundtrack of that film, not one song by Cyrus is played in Radical Jack.
There are some classically bad B-movie moments but none of them involve Cryus or action choreography. There’s the moment where Pfeiffer’s character is introduced as a naked silhouette through a window before cutting to some very slight nudity.
But the funniest part is when Mark 'Woody' Keppel as corrupt Sheriff Neil threatens the hot wife (Orly Tepper) of one his deputies. Showing not the slightest fear for her life or concern for her husband, the young woman offers to sleep with Sheriff but after he’s done with her the bastard shoots her anyway. Keppel appears so miscast in his villainous role that it’s no surprise to discover he’s a gurning vaudeville performer known as Mr Woodhead.
Cyrus isn’t a bad brawler but Jack wasn't much of an action hero; Pfeiffer kills more people than he does! clearly wasn’t destined to be a movie star. The fact David Lynch gave him a role in Mulholland Drive (2001) probably says more about Lynch’s absurdist sensibilities than it does Cyrus’ acting talent, but he did star in a moderately successful TV show. It was called “Doc” and cast Cyrus as a Christian country doctor who relocates to the big city (Toronta doubling as New York) and ran from 2001 to 2004 (totaling 88 episodes).
Since the release of Radical Jack Cyrus has largely been a stranger to the action genre. But, perhaps due to his familiarity with fans of the Hanna Montana franchise (in which he’s appeared in alongside his daughter since 2006) he was cast in the kid-friendly action film The Spy Next Door (Brian Levant, 2010) alongside Jackie Chan. He received a Razzie award nomination for his performance.
Footnote: Look out for Radical Jack producer David Giancola’s Craptastic!. The documentary chronicles the making of his disastrous 2007 sci-fi comedy Illegal Aliens, the last film to star the infamous Anna Nicole Smith.