Monday, September 01, 2003

Don't go see The Medallion

If I were murdered and then brought back to life with supernatural powers, I could do worse than to use them to prevent innocent movie-goers from seeing The Medallion, Jackie Chan's similarly-themed new film.

While running an errand, Scott and I were walking by the Famous Players theatre on Princess St. in Kingston, when he noticed The Medallion was playing. "Let's go see this!" he suggested.

"I don't know," I said. "The reviews are pretty negative. After a certain point, I hear it's full of all that wire-fu stuff, like in Charlie's Angels. If Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore can be made to look like they're doing all this crazy shit, why should it impress me when Jackie Chan does it? The point of seeing a Jackie Chan movie is that he really is doing all that crazy shit."

"That's true," Scott said. "But it should still have some of his regular stuff, and he probably does the wire-fu better anyway. Let's see it." So, we bought tickets.

About ten minutes into the film, he leaned over to me and said exactly what I was thinking: "This is terrible!" It was. In fact, it's worse than terrible. The only thing that kept me in the theatre was the memory of other Jackie Chan movies, and the hope they provided that this one might include at least a little of that vintage action.

The Medallion is pure, unadulterated garbage, and it's mostly the fault of Lee Evans, who plays Watson, a more irritating sidekick than even the notorious Jar-Jar Binks. You may remember him as the crippled-but-not-really guy from There's Something About Mary. (Yeah, the detective's sidekick is named Watson. This ought to give some kind of idea what kind of originality we're dealing with here.) The character is supposed to be some kind of Interpol agent, but his incompetence is played for laughs, only to the point where it actually violates even the shaky internal logic of the movie that Interpol would trust him with emptying wastebaskets, let alone trying to arrest international supercriminals. He makes Inspector Clouseau look like some kind of supercop. He's just absolutely useless, and besides that, irritating.

Making things worse, each of his little comedic scenes was accompanied by that whimsical music you'd usually hear at the very end of an episode of Star Trek, right around the time that Kirk would be telling Spock that he got more human every day and Spock would be raising an eyebrow and responding that he saw no reason to be insulted, and the entire bridge crew would break into laughter that lasted a couple of awkward beats too long, given the quality of the joke. Basically, it's the sort of music that's used to tell you that there's a joke going on here, which you'd already know if it were, you know, funny. Much has been made of the incompetent photography of the film being unable to capture Jackie Chan's balletic grace through its use of tight, close-up shots instead of longer shots that capture the whole body (that's no slight on Sammo Hung, who choreographed the actual fights, but didn't shoot them), but the real offender here is the music editor.

There's a particularly bad sequence where Chan and Evans trot out that hackneyed comedy bit where they have an argument about something that makes them sound like gay lovers to anyone who overhears it. You can see the bit coming from a mile away, it's not particularly well done at all, and it lasts forever. Seriously, it's three times longer than it needs to be. The film devotes what feels like five full minutes to Watson stammering something like, "Oh ... you thought ... that we? ... But we're not ... you know ... together ... not that there's anything ... you know ... wrong ... with ... you know ... that ... because, in all seriousness ... it's perfectly ... well ... all right ... not that I think that you ... would have any sort of ... well .. problem with that ... which is not to say that I think you yourself are a ... well, you know....

Actually, I think the version I just wrote may in fact be funnier and more concise than what's actually in the film.

Another bad and overdone bit: We see Chan's (chaste, as usual) love interest Claire Forlani approach him, accompanied by a romantic soundtrack. But when she reaches him, she slaps him, and the music is cut off abruptly by a -- get this -- record scratch! Hilarious! And original! So much so that the movie has not one, but two such scenes! Ugh.

Another complaint: Watson's wife, whom we only see briefly, is Asian. But their son is obviously a fullblooded (and jugeared) English boy just like his old man, without a trace of mixed blood. This raises questions about the family's history that distract from the film, all of which more or less distill to, Why is Watson's wife Asian? The answer comes when the house is attacked by bad dudes and Watson's wife inexplicably goes into full Hong Kong action movie heroine mode, displaying deadly expertise with martial arts and firearms. No effort is made to explain how she knows how to do any of this, but I suppose you're supposed to say to yourself, Ah. She could do all that stuff because she's Asian. That makes sense.

Another logical problem: At least twice, characters other than Jackie Chan are killed and resurrected by the eponymous medallion. They immediately walk onscreen to look down at their own corpses, which then dissolve and blow away. But when Jackie Chan is resurrected, he doesn't show up and look down at his own cadaver until he's in the morgue? Why? Is it simply to provide a humorous excuse to show Jackie Chan's naked buttocks? It must be, because there's no other explanation.

What's good about The Medallion? There's a little bit of decent action, I guess. But even the stuff that happens before Jackie Chan's character's death that shouldn't have any wire-fu feels a bit like it does. The nice parts are the little things, like when Jackie Chan climbs up a fence and through a small crevice really quickly. That kind of thing is okay. But really, the best thing about the movie is that it's short.

All in all, the wire fu just defeats the point of a Jackie Chan movie, and the comedy is execrable. You're way ahead to just rent some classic Jackie Chan movies, watch them at home, and pretend The Medallion isn't even in theatres. That shouldn't be too hard -- in a week or two, this piece of garbage won't be.

Rating: Two record scratches.

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