Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Skiptrace: Harlin Directs Chan, Knoxville, and Fan

This film was made possible by the global economy. It was directed by a Finn famous for blowing things up and stars a Hong Konger beloved for giving up his body and a Tennessean who made a name for himself getting racked in the jewels on MTV. As an added bonus, it also features probably the world’s most popular actress in a supporting role. Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville bring the buddy movie action-comedy in Renny Harlin’s Skiptrace (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Connor Watts is a conman who has no problem with the “ugly American” label. Unfortunately, he scams the wrong hotel casino in Macau. The business manager happens to be Samantha, the goddaughter of Hong Kong’s most obsessive cop, Benny Chan. Chan will not rest until he brings Watts to justice, but the Yank has good reason to keep his distance. As fate would have it, he happened to witness a murder committed by shadowy businessman Victor Wong, whom Chan has long suspected of being the drug lord who murdered Samantha’s father, his former partner Yung.

Watts even has potential evidence locked in the cell phone the murdered woman lifted from the so-called “Matador.” Of course, the cop and the robber have diametrically opposed goals and motivations, but Watts will eventually get with the crime-stopping program after a few close shaves. He would also like to impress the lovely Samantha, assuming he can avoid a Russian mobster’s shotgun wedding plans.

The pairing of Chan and Knoxville might not inspire much confidence, but they play off each other quite well. There is no shortage of bickering and bantering in Skiptrace, but fortunately there is just as much fighting. You could say both co-leads are unusually experienced when it comes to physical comedy—and have the scars to prove it. That flexibility and high tolerance for pain serves them well in some vintage Jackie Chan fight scenes. One sequence in particular choreographed around an assembly line clearly evokes Chaplinesque echoes.

Chan finds a terrific sparring partner in WWE veteran Eve Torres, playing Dasha, the Russian enforcer, whom his character ironically resists fighting because she is a woman (right, good luck with that). Eventually, Torres also quite entertainingly takes on Zhang Lanxin cast as the Matador’s chief henchperson. The luminous Fan Bingbing manages to elevate the underwritten role of Samantha through her sheer start presence. She didn’t get to be the biggest name in the business by sheer accident. Serious HK action fans will also enjoy seeing Eric Tsang and Michael Wong appear as Chan’s late partner and his crooked police captain (of course, he is corrupt, he is played by Michael Wong—no spoiler alert necessary).

We have been down this road of beatdowns and gags with Jackie Chan before, but it all works pretty well this time around. Harlin shows wise restraint in some scenes, like the Mongolian Adele sing-along, just going for a fun vibe rather than yuckety-yuck laughs. Fun really is the apt word to describe Skiptrace. It never transcends genre (would we even want it to?), but it just clicks. Recommended for martial arts and Jackass fans, Skiptrace opens this Friday (9/2) in New York, at the AMC Empire.