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I’ve always been a Jackie Chan fan. It’s hard to think of a time when I wasn’t amazed by the man. Though his recent output hasn’t been amazing, I’m still interested in the projects he chooses and how they come to be. Skiptrace, which has been released all across Asia but not yet in the states, is a fun film but far more interested in concept than in reality. Skiptrace is the work of Chan, Finish director Renny Harlin, Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing, American comedy actor and human groin-punch Johnny Knoxville, and rich Chinese film producers. It seemingly came together under the wackiest set of circumstances since that time Nic Cage starred in a Chinese production with Hayden Christensen. Unfortunately, all these elements don’t make for a great film; Skiptrace is interesting for sure, but decidedly flawed.
The film revolves around Jackie Chan, playing hotshot Hong Kong detective Bennie Chan, and Johnny Knoxville, playing American gambler Connor Watts, teaming up to take down The Matador, a Hong Kong gangster responsible for the death of Yung, Chan’s partner in the Hong Kong police. On paper, this reads like gangbusters, a sort-of Midnight Run meets Rush Hour. The execution is somewhat botched however by an obvious low budget and the not-so-deft touch of director Renny Harlin. Harlin has made some solid action films in the past (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea), but he is not at his best with Skiptrace, as it appears his directing is all over the place.
This is most evident in the fight scenes and the added silly comedy. The fight scenes in a Chan movie need more room to breathe, but Harlin confines Chan and Knoxville too often to stairs, slides, and even river rafts. It doesn’t seem like Chan is given the freedom to wind up and then go. It seems restrictive and limiting. Say what you will about Brett Ratner, but he’s a Western director who definitely knows how to frame a Chan movie. Harlin is an action director first and foremost, and his inability to properly stage Chan’s fights show. The little bits of added in comedy, crucial to Chan’s films, don’t quite work either. Sure there are funny scenes, but mostly due to the chemistry and line readings between Chan and Knoxville. Again, Harlin doesn’t really give his talented cast any help here.
The film’s budget (estimated at about 60 million dollars) is stretched due to location scenes, which are definitely gorgeous. Unfortunately, there is some atrocious green-screen work going on in Skiptrace. One of the funniest scenes in the film, in which Chan and Knoxville are confined to a zipline, suffers somewhat as a result. Some of the sets and costuming likewise appear to be cheap, but it isn’t as noticeable as the special effects. Certain set pieces, such as the casino chase towards the beginning and the sinking yacht at the end, work just fine, however. The film has a slick and polished sheen overall; it just appears somewhat cheap in places.
I don’t want to sound too negative about Skiptrace because I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit. However, it is ultimately something of a missed opportunity. But let’s focus on the positive – Chan and Knoxville have great chemistry together and their scenes together are a blast mostly. The script is just fine, though probably could have used another lay of polish. Knoxville gets most of the laughs of course, and is able to do some of the schtick that he brought to the Jackass franchise over the years. Chan is getting very visibly old, but remains a delight to watch on screen. Fan Bingbing is definitely a solid screen presence, but would most likely work better in a Chinese language movie. She is absolutely beautiful however, and does not detract from the film in any way.
Probably my biggest qualm about Skiptrace is that it opens with such a bang before slowing down considerably. Chan and Knoxville’s journey through Mongolia and China should just be funnier and more interesting. Once the two finally get closer to Hong Kong, the pace picks up again in time for a very interesting and exciting finale. The first twenty minutes of the film are really good work, particularly from Knoxville who looks to be having the time of his life. I hope he got a significant paycheck for doing this movie, because he absolutely earned it. I wish the film had kept up with that initial pace however, because there’s a goofy and lovable energy within it that I really enjoyed.
Though I sound overly negative, I actually enjoyed quite a bit about Skiptrace. Knoxville and Chan’s chemistry is a definite high point, and there are some inspired action set pieces and good laughs. I went in with somewhat high expectations, and the film just couldn’t properly live up to them. No matter what, it was good to see Chan back on the big screen having a good time and being in a relatively enjoyable movie. I’m not sure if this film is going to get a wide release in theaters (it has the tone and feel somewhat of a very solid direct-to-video production) or not, but I’d say it’s worth it if you’re a diehard Chan fan like me, and maybe not so much if you could take or leave Chan’s work.