Synopsis – A detective from Hong Kong teams up with an American gambler to battle against a notorious Chinese criminal.
My Take – Its been a while since Jackie Chan appeared on the big screen in an English language film (Dragon Blade was more of a Chinese film with some English speaking actors). For those who didn’t know, despite being missing from the screen on this side of the world, Chan, who without a doubt is still the most successful Asian actor in Hollywood, is reigning Hong Kong/Chinese films for a while now. While his popularity is on the wane (with the upcoming Martin Campbell directed The Foreigner being sort of a comeback) in rest of the world, back in China he’s bigger than ever and which is now one of the dominant box-office territories in the world, his homegrown movies carry big-budgets and huge revenues. Known for his signature preposterous fighting style and slapstick humor, Chan has found success in the form of Rush Hour, an action comedy with Chris Tucker that made him a Hollywood star in 1998. This had two equally blockbuster sequels, Rush Hour 2 and 3. He also teamed up with Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon, which also had a sequel Shanghai Knights. But his later releases, The Tuxedo, The Medallion and his own version of Around the World in 80 Days with Steve Coogan, were not as successful. Though his dramatic supporting role in the remake of The Karate Kid opposite Jaden Will Smith was quite successful. The screenplay of his films always played to the genre’s conventions, but never had enough material that one might call “original” in them. Nonetheless, the stunts and fights were always inventive, and how could they not be, with Chan, who continues to eschew using a double to perform the sequences himself, often risking his limbs, if not his life.
With the right co-stars, Chan and co. could actually make a lazy script work, but sadly, Jackass star Johnny Knoxville is not one of them. But fear not the film is not as bad as you expect it to be, in fact, if you are a fan of earlier Jackie Chan’s film, this is absolutely made by Jackie Chan, for Jackie Chan’s fans-film. This film has Chan back in his old glory form, well only if director Renny Harlin could have brought a little more charm to this run of the mill buddy comedy. The story follows Bennie Chan (Jackie Chan), a Hong Kong detective who has been tracking notorious crime boss Victor Wong (Winston Chao) for over a decade. When Bennie’s goddaughter Samantha (Bingbing Fan) gets into trouble with Wong’s crime syndicate, Bennie must track down the man whose actions got her there: the fast-talking American gambler Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville). Bennie soon discovers, however, that in bringing Connor back to Hong Kong he’s ensuring more than his goddaughter’s fate; Connor also possesses knowledge about Victor Wong that, if exposed, could finally bring the corrupt businessman to justice. As Bennie races against the clock to return with Connor to Hong Kong, the unlikely pair embarks on an entertaining and perilous adventure that spans from the mountains of Mongolia to the dunes of the Gobi desert. The film seems to be Chan’s attempt to merge his Chinese and American audiences, with him having brought-in Johnny Knoxville to be his co-star in what’s basically a Midnight Run rip-off with a hefty dose of Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon mixed-in. He’s also recruited former ace Hollywood director Renny Harlin to call the shots, although the finished product is far shoddier than the types of movies he made in his hey-day, a sad comedown for the man behind Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger & the Long Kiss Goodnight. The plot is cliché-ridden and while there are several action sequences which showcase Jackie’s signature prop comedy fighting style, these seem awkwardly slotted in instead of unfolding organically within the plot. It zip lines from point A to point B without much explanation. There’s even an annoying wannabe comic-book-like/Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie-style intro for each character at the beginning. The film’s 80% in English (to pander to those foreign markets), so some of the lines delivered by a few Chinese actors are stilted and wooden. However the good news is the film it doesn’t entirely suck.
The film does offer a lot of slapstick comedy with many throwaway gags and references to other movies like Titanic and Butch Cassidy, as well as fast-paced action scenes that give you your money’s worth. It’s has a refreshing dose of comic silliness to counter the Hollywood PC crowd that take themselves way too seriously. Here, everyone seems to be having genuine fun making the film, even Johnny Knoxville, an actor I particularly dislike in films, yet somehow manages to avoid going full Jackass mode and cracked me up a few times. When he finds himself at the mercy of Jackie’s slapstick wrath, more than once, the film really earned those bonus points. The best scene would be a drunk Chan crooning to Adele’s Rolling In The Deep with the Mongolian tribe. The locations here, which include China’s Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces and parts of Mongolia, are beautiful to watch and do sometimes distract from the lazy plotting that Harlin has concocted here. Harlin’s direction here is competent and outlandishly safe, but expecting anything other than by-the-book entertainment from Harlin is not informing yourself enough of his past. Like his previous films, Chan does share good moments with Knoxville where their partnership works, even if they do feel like shades of better scenes we’ve seen in older films, but one at a Russian packing plant where a Matryoshka doll is used as a prop is not only tremendously exciting stuff, but encompasses the ingenuity and humor that one might find in a better Jackie Chan film. But mostly, the plot is almost a prop in itself, a kind of excuse for the next fight to eventually occur. Chan’s signature comedy fighting style is infectious, and there’s a reason why this man has been in the game for more than five decades and has had so much success. Knoxville is not necessarily bad here, in comparison to his other performances, he does quite well as the fast talking two faced American who passes of the plot of The Notebook as his family story. The gorgeous Bingbing Fan impresses with her grace and elegance, despite not having much to do here. Even her encounter with Johnny’s character is poorly edited. They meet in a casino, and when he stole her VIP access card and took off, there will odd flashbacks of them sharing kisses (since when), and they got together in the end, even though Conner didn’t do anything to impress her. Rest of the cast are passable. On the whole, ‘Skiptrace’ will surely please Jackie Chan fans for being a cheerful, harmless good-natured entertaining film despite having a dimwit plotline. An alright summer film that gives us a bit of the old Chan we used to enjoy.
Directed – Renny Harlin
Rating – PG13
Run Time – 107 minutes