In today’s go-go Shanghai, transporting valuable art should be a high-growth business. Unfortunately, Danny Stratton’s company suffers when they lose a Van Gogh in the prologue. However, they will have a chance for redemption when his closest competitor is killed in a car bombing. The whole living-and-breathing thing will definitely give him a competitive advantage, but he wants some payback to go with his comeback in Charles Martin’s British-Chinese co-pro S.M.A.R.T. Chase (trailer here), which opens today in New York.
One minute, Stratton is riding high in the back of an armored car and before you know it, he is doing demeaning bodyguard work for club kids. His core group stayed with his company (Security Management Action Recovery Team): the grizzled hardnose, Mach Ren, the martial arts specialist J. Jae An, and the drone flying computer geek teen, Ding Dong Tang. Alas, Stratton’s sort of fiancée, Ling Mo (Mach’s niece) throws him over, because she gets sick of his self-pity. Yet, she helps him get back in the game with a contract to transport a priceless vase. When the gang that stole the Van Gogh takes a run at the vase, Stratton goes off script, deciding to play for all the marbles.
As far as action movie premises go, this one is perfectly fine, but Martin and screenwriter Kevin Bernhardt never take it far enough. The producers really should have brought in a moonlighter from Jonnie To’s Milkway Image to punch it up. Instead, all of the action scenes have a rather competent blandness to them.
Still, it is great fun to watch Simon Yam play a slightly unhinged character like Mach, even when he is half-asleep, which seems to be the case here. Orlando Bloom is better than you might expect as Stratton, but that bleach-blond look is such a mistake. Even though An is not much of a character, Hannah Quinlivan shows all kinds of future potential as she struts through the film. Yet, the honors for effort and execution go to Jing Liang, who vamps it up as villainess Tara Yen, whose fingers nails are the most memorable aspect of the film. On the other hand, Martin unforgivably squanders Shi Yanneng/Xing Yu and his real deal Shaolin chops as Long Fei, Yen’s chief henchman.
Given the terrific supporting cast, S.M.A.R.T. Chase (a.k.a. The Shanghai Job, a.k.a. S.M.A.R.T.: Dragon and Phoenix, a.k.a. Smart Chase: Fire & Earth) really ought to be several times better than it is, especially since Bloom isn’t so bad as a martial arts lead. You also have to wonder if the compulsively busy Yam still remembers filming S.M.A.R.T. Whatever. It feels like it was deliberately made to be a time killer to watch on international flights. Not really recommended, but just sort of eh, S.M.A.R.T. Chase opens today (8/31) in New York, at the Cinema Village.