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Movie Review: Shanghai-d at the movies

Friday, February 07, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The Jackie Chan-Owen Wilson comedy "Shanghai Noon" packed five gallons of soggy cowboy skits into a 10-gallon hat and relied on Chan's martial-arts skills to fill the rest. So what do you do for the encore, "Shanghai Knights"?

 
 
'SHANGHAI KNIGHTS'

RATING: PG-13 for action violence and sexual content.

STARRING: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson.

DIRECTOR: David Dobkin.

Critic's call:

   
 

Why, you pack up these fish out of water and take them across the pond to Jolly Old England, where Queen Victoria is about to celebrate her golden jubilee, street urchins enact the real-life version of "Oliver!" and Jack the Ripper is on the loose.

Our unlikely heroes are trailing a British aristocrat (Aidan Gillen) who killed the father of Chon Wang (Chan) and stole the Imperial Seal of China as part of a larger, more sinister plot.

Not that plot matters much in "Shanghai Knights," which exists solely for the martial-arts action and the comic banter between Chan and Wilson, who plays Roy O'Bannon, a legend in his own mind.

In "Shanghai Noon," they rescued a Chinese princess and her gold, which Roy has squandered by the time Chon shows up for his cut, which would finance his trip to England. Still, they team up again, and the movie even provides them with another female sidekick -- Chon's sister, Lin (Fann Wong).

Chan tries to make his character more serious, but Roy has his mind on other things -- women, insulting the English, sex, living the good life, females.

There's a surprising amount of boogie in "Shanghai Knights," considering its PG-13 rating. Some scenes take place in bordellos, Roy studies a copy of the Kama Sutra with deep interest, the entrance to a secret passage is revealed by placing hands on the breasts of some statues of the female persuasion.

By the time we get to the pillow fight, there's no doubt "Shanghai Knights" is a featherbrain.

When Roy's mind rises from the gutter, he becomes a walking anachronism who might have stepped right out of a TV beer commercial. "This country sucks!" he yells as it begins raining. The 1960s hits on the soundtrack are one thing, but when Lin hears Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames blasting from a hotel room in 1887 London -- well, the idea worked in "Moulin Rouge," and I suspect the audience for "Shanghai Knights" won't think twice about it. But who's this Victoria dame?

Director David Dobkin, known (if at all) for the 1997 black comedy "Clay Pigeons," seems irrelevant. Screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar crafted Wilson's smart-aleck lines while Chan choreographed the action scenes in his inimitable style, dodging swords and blows while using props such as ladders, boards and bookshelves to confound his enemies.

After a while, though, it begins to feel like overkill -- same gags, same stunts, same damp 10-gallon hat. No wonder the Buckingham Palace guard kept a straight face.


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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