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  Skiptrace Jackie and Johnny together at last
Year: 2016
Director: Renny Harlin
Stars: Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bingbing, Eric Tsang, Eve Torres, Winston Chao, Jeong-hun Yeon, Shi Shi, Michael Wong, Dylan Kuo, Zhang Lanxin, Charlie Rawes, Michael Gor, Sara Maria Forsberg
Genre: Comedy, Action, Thriller, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Hong Kong cop Bennie Chan (Jackie Chan) has spent nine years chasing the 'Matador', the elusive and mysterious crime lord that murdered his partner Yung (Eric Tsang). Although Bennie is certain billionaire businessman Victor Wong (Winston Chao) is the man he is looking for he has yet to find any proof. When Yung's daughter Samantha (Fan Bingbing) lands in trouble with Wong's syndicate, Bennie agrees to retrieve fast-talking American conman Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville). Whilst gambling his way through a casino in Macau, Connor happens upon a young woman murdered by none other than Victor Wong. Before Bennie can find him Connor is abducted by the Russian mob who want him to marry the boss' pregnant daughter. As Bennie helps Connor escape, the bickering duo are flung into a breakneck chase from Russia through Mongolia, eluding hit-men, gangsters and the wild terrain, trying to reach Hong Kong in time to expose the Matador and save Samantha's life.

Skiptrace was an attempt by the Chinese film industry to make a film specifically for the American market. Hence the film, made largely in English (unlike past examples here a mostly Chinese cast are very deft with their dialogue), pairs homegrown martial arts icon Jackie Chan with Jackass co-creator/star Johnny Knoxville under the direction of imported Hollywood action veteran Renny Harlin. Yet despite Jackie's marquee value, Skiptrace was barely released outside China. On paper pairing him with Knoxville (both men famous for sustaining severe injuries for the sake of entertainment) must have seemed like a sure bet. However Knoxville's hold on the pop cultural zeitgeist was more than fifteen years ago and Harlin has not had a hit in years. That said it was a different story in China where Skiptrace topped the domestic box-office earning a substantial chunk of change. Clearly the message was not lost on Harlin. Subsequently the man behind Die Hard 2 (1990) and Cliffhanger (1992) found a new lease of life making Chinese blockbusters Legend of the Ancient Sword (2018) and Bodies at Rest (2019).

Essentially a silly but amiable variation on Midnight Run (1988) with a touch of Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) thrown in, Skiptrace gets by on Jackie and Johnny's easygoing chemistry, shameless yet somehow still warmhearted tourist shots promoting Mongolia's stunning scenery and tribal culture, and an array of agreeable slapstick set-pieces. Unlike say Brett Ratner, Harlin knows well enough to let Jackie do his thing. As choreographed by Jackie's stunt team the action scenes prove the still-limber clown prince of kung fu has lost none of his flair. A sequence wherein Jackie uses a series of increasingly smaller Matryoshka dolls to shield himself from a statuesque Russian femme fatale, played by former WWE bombshell Eve Torres, is especially witty and fun. It helps that unlike the majority of American co-stars featured in Jackie's previous films, Knoxville has the stunt background and fortitude to endure the more rough and tumble action scenes. He basically takes the stock Owen Wilson role as the charming rogue with an eye for the ladies and a heart of gold. Yet brings a disarming depth of emotion to the film's dramatic beats. The same can be said for the ever-winsome Fan Bingbing, latterly more infamous for her brief 'detainment' by the Chinese government over allegations of tax evasion.

If Skiptrace ambles too often where it should gallop, and rattles through every buddy cop cliché in the book, seasoned Hong Kong film fans will still get a kick out of seeing veterans like actor-director Eric Tsang, comedian Richard Ng and Michael Wong (whose track record of shady roles gives away a major twist) still doing their thing. Unusually the third act proves the strongest part of the movie. Harlin cranks up the tension and emotional weight pulling off some genuinely unexpected surprises and a final showdown that satisfies way more than Chan's more lucrative Rush Hour films. On top of that you also get to see Jackie lead a chorus of Mongolian tribal folk through a rousing rendition of Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep'!

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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