Sweet and Lowdown
Jackie Chan's latest shotgun marriage of martial-arts action and buddy-pic slapstick suffers from a script less written than treated, scenes less directed than strong-armed into semicoherence, and a scarifying premise: a Chinese imperial guard and a ne'er-do-well American petty criminal team up in Nevada to rescue a kidnapped princess (Lucy Liu). Shanghai Noon is also unstintingly funnyfar more so than the wince-worthy trailerowing to Chan's pairing with droll indie eccentric Owen Wilson, as his would-be gunslinger sidekick.
Wilson could have walked straight off the set of Bottle Rocketthe sweet, cockeyed, rigorously understated heist comedy he starred in and cowrote with Wes Anderson before they penned Rushmoreand into Shanghai Noon, where his gentle, faintly delirious, wholly idiosyncratic presence provides winning absurdist counterpoint to his frenetic surroundings and to the self-effacing whirling dervish Chan. The pair's affectionate, rat-tat-tat chemistry seems to spring from mutual fascination and, no doubt, from the fact that Wilson was allowed to improvise. Chan, now into his late forties, is bearing up astonishingly well, but his twilight years of defying gravity and good common sense have so far gone ill-recorded. As in Rush Hour, the action sequences are so tightly framed and haphazardly edited that your eye can't follow his breathtaking balletic bang-pow.
That Chan and Wilson deserve better seems beside the point. A solid spit-your-popcorn lowbrow comedy comes along only so often, so don't think it's damnation by faint praise to say that the best scene in Shanghai Noon involves two grown men screaming their way through an apparently untranslatable Chinese drinking game while enjoying a bubble bath together.
Unclean! Unclean! The existence of Road Tripwhich belches up Grampa's-boner gags, wayward-prostate jokes, a hot-chick auction, unclothed nymphets straddling fully clad boys, and other college-trash staples with an alacrity that Adam Sandler would cherishproves that Porky yet goes unrevenged. The titular death march across the U.S.A., commencing after Breckin Meyer accidentally mails his girlfriend a tape of himself humping Amy Smart, gets a lurching spring in its step whenever Tom Green shows up to, say, cram a live mouse in his mouth, or when DJ Qualls, making his movie debut, gets any decent screen time. Inhabiting a naive, dorky tagalong with uncommon gangly grace, Quallswith his scarecrow frame, mud-flap ears, and goofy crooked smileshouldn't miss Harmony Korine's next casting call.
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