Some films are born to spawn sequels and others are thrust into the process. Planned ones like the Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings movies are like the old movie-house serials on steroids. Industry insiders call them “tent poles,” relatively sure things to prop up a studio’s potentially sagging sales graph. Other flicks accidentally strike box-office gold and their producers mandate a sequel that mines the same vein. Shanghai Knights is one of those.
Shanghai Noon, the predecessor in question, was as dubiously clever as its title. In that flick, Jackie Chan’s imperial guard Chon Wang journeys from China’s Forbidden City to rescue Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) in America’s Wild West. On the way he runs into Owen Wilson’s anachronistically sensitive and intellectual bank robber, Roy O’Bannon. Of course, Chon and Roy become reluctant buddies and team up to save the princess from a pair of villains who seem like their sociopathic reflections.
While Shanghai Noon took the buddy comedy to ridiculous extremes, Knights is just ridiculous. One sequel strategy is to copy and enlarge the first flick’s plot points and set the action in a different location (Chan’s two Rush Hour films used the same formula). But Knights copies and shrinks Noon, and inexplicably sets it in a Disneyfied Victorian London. Our heroes bumble past the sights like reluctant tourists while attempting to rescue Chon’s little sister, Lin (Fann Wong), from another pair of equally odd-couple villains, and the story degenerates from Noon’s fairy tale to tall tales like those in the pulp westerns that O’Bannon now scribbles.
Knights’ stars fail to rescue it. Wong’s Lin is little more than kung fu window dressing; Wilson can’t manage to do much with his flimsy character and Chan fails to thrill, even with a kung fu homage to Singin’ in the Rain that verges on the surreal. Here, 48-year-old Chan can’t manage to make his action-comedy set pieces look effortless. After each ass-kicking, he looks like he’s about to shanghai Murtaugh’s catchphrase from one of the too many Lethal Weapon flicks: “I’m getting too old for this.”
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].