Lacking in originality and jokes, the charisma of its stars can only carry this movie so far
“How do they keep finding us?”
Good question, Connor Watts – the con-man played by Johnny Knoxville as his attempts to escape his pursuers goes awry for the seventieth time. Another comedy chase happens, and then he and Benny (Jackie Chan), find themselves on the road again. This is Skiptrace, by Renny Harlin of terrible pirate movie fam, which is a film that really likes to repeat itself. What am I talking about?
So Jackie Chan plays Benny Chan (not related to the actor or director of the same name), a Hong Kong cop who’s been trying to track down crime boss The Matador for some time. After the death of his partner Yung (Eric Tsang, in a suspiciously small role), he spends a decade obsessing over it, believing the boss to be businessman Victor Wong (Winston Chao). He is asked by Yung’s daughter Samantha (Fan Bingbing) to help her as she is being targeted by Wong.
I can’t remember how, but this leads Benny to Connor – a man perpetually on the run as he pisses off crime lords all over the world. Connor had just bared witness to a woman by Wong, and has the only evidence. This somehow links in with Chan’s story, but it’s gone completely over my head. Regardless, Connor and Benny don’t get along very well with Connor spending much of the first half of the film trying to escape from Benny, followed by both of them trying to escape gangsters.
Like I said, it’s a bit repetitive.
Jackie Chan is no stranger to buddy pictures. Being paired alongside a fast-talking bumbling American is basically his default move and more often than not it kinda sucks. The problem with these films is that there’s not a lot of originality to be had, so they need to rely on story and the characters. Rush Hour was by no means a great film but it had some original ideas, good jokes and was bolstered by the strong chemistry between its leads. Shanghai Noon had no humour and terrible chemistry. This film? Kinda somewhere in the middle.
Knoxville and Chan are both pretty charismatic actors. Knoxville especially has learnt to tone it down a bit since his Jackass days, and his performance is enjoyable and likeable. With Chan’s natural likeability, at least the audience can be sure that even if the story is terrible, at least the stars are fun to watch. These two work pretty well together – it’s nothing spectacular, but it’s still good – and that’s probably by and large the biggest draw to the film, because that story sure isn’t.
The plot to this film is paper-thin. It incorporates every buddy cliché under the sun, taking cues from those previous Jackie Chan buddy films, and also Planes, Train and Automobiles, and 48 Hours. You know every hurdle they have to face, and the solution before it comes to them. Hell, there’s a terrible twist regarding the villain that would outrank Angels and Demons in how predictable it is. All of it’s been done before, and it’s been done better. In that regard, Skiptrace offers nothing new. It’s annoying because these premises have great potential for humour, but this script is strangely void of any good jokes.
But at least the location shooting is good! Benny and Connor’s globetrotting ways makes for some great scenery, and Renny Harlin spends his directing efforts giving us great sweeping shots of Mongolia, Hong Kong, Macau and Russia. But that’s the natural world doing the majority of the heavy lifting: Harlin is just capturing it on film. He does it well, sure, but I don’t know if it’s enough to really warrant watching this. You can find good Jackie Chan performances and gorgeous landscapes in films like Little Big Soldier.
I don’t want to say that Skiptrace is terrible. It isn’t, and I enjoyed watching it from time to time and there’s some decent action when it gets going. But when the majority of the film is predictable, unfunny and generally like the lesser equivalent of films just like it, there are simply better things you could be watching. Go see a Shane Black film instead.
Verdict: Decidedly ‘meh’, Skiptrace offers nothing new and is largely forgettable.
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 5/10
Sex: Lame, nude spooning joke/10
Great cameos: Richard Ng makes an appearance, making this a Lucky Stars semi-reunion
Validity as an Asian film: It’s a co-production. It totally counts
Eric Tsang: Completely wasted
Also known as: 絕地逃亡
Director: Renny Harlin
Writers: Jay Longino, BenDavid Grabinski
Jackie Chan – Benny Chan
Johnny Knoxville – Connor Watts
Fan Bingbing – Samantha
Eric Tsang – Yung
Eve Torres – Dasha
Winston Chao – Victor Wong
Yeon Jung-hoon – Handsome Willie
Shi Shi – Leslie
Michael Wong – Capt. Tang
Dylan Kuo – Esmon
Zhang Lanxin – Ting
Sara Forsberg – Natalya
Mikhail Gorevoy – Dima, Russian Kingpin
Charles Rawes – Sergei
Jai Day – Vladmir