He was a cop, a treasure hunter, a drunken master and a racecar driver, but you never knew Jackie Chan led a double-life as a celebrity chef in Melbourne, Australia, did you? Upholding a proud tradition of Hong Kong stars shunning character names, our man Jackie is indeed a kung fu culinary genius slinging pasta with acrobatic abandon alongside crazy-accented Italian chef Baggio (Barry Otto) on a tacky daytime cookery show. Out doing his daily shopping, Jackie gallantly rescues plucky TV reporter Diana (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick), on the run after filming a drug deal gone south between dirt-phobic crime kingpin Giancarlo (Richard Norton) and a gang of garish street punks led by feisty Sandy (Rachel Blakely). Jackie’s quick thinking and flying fists allow Diana to elude the killers, but their videotapes get mixed up. She has his cooking show. He has the drug deal. Now two groups of vicious criminals threaten Jackie and his friends.
Great things were expected of Mr. Nice Guy, not least because it marked the end of a nine year estrangement between Jackie and his childhood friend, fellow Peking Opera student and greatest collaborator Sammo Hung. Besides being the foremost innovator in martial arts cinema with a string of masterpieces to his name, Sammo previously guided Jackie through several of the strongest films in his career: Wheels on Meals (1984), Heart of the Dragon (1985), Dragons Forever (1987). Which makes it all the more painful and befuddling that Mr. Nice Guy is such a tepid, perfunctory mess - a Jackie Chan film by-numbers. Not that many seemed to care at the time given the film was a huge hit in Hong Kong and, as the first Chan film shot almost entirely in English, performed well at the American box-office though it was shorn of nine minutes.
It is hard to argue with box office receipts. Mr. Nice Guy adheres to the formula established by Stanley Tong with his Rumble in the Bronx (1995) and First Strike (1996), both of which were major international hits for the clown prince of kung fu. What few seemed to appreciate at the time was that these films embodied everything fans had long argued Jackie Chan movies were not, namely flimsy plots wedded to tacky comedy and nonsensical, albeit sporadically inventive action and stunts. Missing, were the coherence, wit and deftness with which Chan previously melded subtext, storytelling and slapstick fu. Mr. Nice Guy has a worryingly disheartening theme running through it whereby characters repeatedly pay a heavy price for trying to do the right thing. Jackie sticks up for a damsel in distress and gets all kinds of grief, Sammo cameos as garishly attired cyclist repeatedly punched in the face while trying to help, and even our hero shuns Baggio’s policeman son Romeo (Vince Poletto) when his rescue attempt falls short. Evidently, nice guys get nothing but trouble.
Jackie’s role as a kung fu chef might have been influenced by The God of Cookery (1996), a Steven Chow Sing-Chi comedy then recently released to great critical and popular acclaim, or else a misguided nod to Steven Seagal in Under Siege (1992). Either way the film does nothing with the whole foodie concept. Similarly superflous are the three female leads: Taiwanese pop sensation Miki Lee Ting-Yee is dull and whiny as love interest, er, Miki and visibly stifles laughter throughout several dialogue scenes. Karen McLymont is simply shrill as Lakeisha the feisty TV producer with an unrequited crush on Jackie. Excised from the American cut is a mildly, if embarassingly racist scene where Jackie implies things could never work out between them because, well, she’s black. Aussie soap star Gabrielle Fitzpatrick acquits herself pretty well, all things considered, with a performance befitting the tone of a HK action comedy and Neighbours veteran Rachel Blakely has an almost interesting role as the principled gang leader who won’t let her thugs blow up innocent people or molest Miki. But as with the Canadian cast of Rumble in the Bronx, the Aussie actors playing villains here deliver rabidly cartoonish performances looking like a Hanna-Barbera rendition of a violent street gang. Australian martial artist Richard Norton was a Hong Kong movie veteran, though routinely dubbed in Cantonese. Speaking in his own voice, he seems incapable of a single convincing line reading and the film makes surprisingly little use of his prowess. Lookout for Sammo’s wife and onetime martial arts star Joyce Godenzi in the audience amidst Jackie’s cookery demonstration.
Some of Sammo’s directorial flair and Jackie’s slapstick ingenuity shine through: the fight atop the horse-drawn carriage that pays tribute to Stagecoach (1939), the scene with Jackie tied to ropes so Giancarlo can pummel him silly, the warehouse fight where he narrowly escapes having his genitals sliced off with a buzzsaw, and his climactic use of an enormous JCB to demolish the mob boss’ hideout. However, placed within such a lethargic scenario they lack impact and like the film itself, swiftly vanish from memory.
Hong Kong born actor, producer and director and one of the best known figures in Hong Kong cinema. Hung's large frame belies a formidable martial arts ability, and he's best known for his collaborations with Jackie Chan during the 1980s and more recently for his US TV show Martial Law.