After more than five decades, over two hundred movies and who knows how many broken bones from putting his body on the line as he entertained a whole generation with his signature flip-flopping style of “kung fu by way of Buster Keaton”, Jackie Chan was finally awarded an Honorary Oscar earlier in the week. With a towering filmography that stands as the very literal definition of action comedy, the award was incredibly fitting as the 62-year old Hong Kong star has cemented his place not just in this fervent fan’s shriveled little heart, but also among the true greats of cinema’s pantheon. Not that you would get much of that greatness from Skiptrace though.
This globe-trotting fumble sees Chan as Chinese police detective Benny Chan who has just about ruined his career while searching for the Matador, a mysterious crime kingpin who killed his partner years before. His investigation causes him to cross paths with Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville), an American conman/gambler caught up with the Russian mob and on the lam after he witnesses the murder of a woman in a Macau casino and inadvertently implicates Samantha (Fan Bingbing), the daughter of Chan’s deceased partner.
Cue lots of frantic to and fro-ing, as Chan has to convince the self-interested Connor to return to Hong Kong with him to testify, while both the Russians and some shady Chinese ne’er-do-wells try to nab him for their own purposes. Oh and lots and lots of Johnny Knoxville’s cackling. Oh the cackling!
Although it possesses no subtitle, a fitting postscript for Skiptrace would probably be “How The Mighty Have Fallen… Face First Into Poo. Yuk yuk!“. To be fair to Chan, despite his aging years, he is still capable of some of the showstopping exploits that turned him into a household name. Those once lightning quick reflexes are a step slower and the stunts are no longer as death-defying, but there are still many above the physical capabilities of most mere mortals, boasting flashes of his vintage set piece ingenuity.
But not helping his star along is director Renny Harlin, once the man behind such guilty action delights as Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight, and now the five-time Razzie nominated filmmaker man behind… well, this. Harlin clumsily over-directs, milking melodrama where none is needed, tossing in needless flashiness and breaking up scenes with unnecessary edits. His over-reliance on cheap green screen effects also completely hamstrings any of Chan’s physical efforts. One early scene sees a row of dockland structures collapsing like dominoes as Chan has to leap from one to the other to escape the destruction. But all I could see destroyed with the illusion of belief as I stared at the blatantly fake sets.
Matters don’t improve when it comes to Knoxville either. The ex-Jackass frontman once made a lucrative career out of being an on-screen buffoon, but now his antics are far more grating than funny with nary an ounce of chemistry to be found with Chan. What’s worse is that we’ve already seen Chan in these international odd-couple pairings in the Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon films, all to far more successful effect. But instead of facilitating an entertaining clash of personalities who both contribute some entertainment value, the film’s script is nothing more than Chan saving Connor from whatever calamity of his own doing he’s currently facing, Connor then betraying Chan in the dumbest way possible for no real reason and causing another calamity for himself, which Chan then has to save him from again. Rinse. Repeat. Yawn.
At least the endless narrative rehashing is constantly given a fresh change of scenery, as Harlin’s on-location shooting sees Skiptrace visiting Hong Kong, Macua, Russia and Mongolia. The latter is especially used to great effect, with some sweeping vistas captured on film, a stark contrast to some of the other tone-deaf visuals Harlin goes for. Also admirable is the effortlessly likable Bingbing as Samantha, while ex WWE Divas Champion Eve Torres puts in a very memorable showing as female Russian bruiser Dasha. Her punchy scraps with Chan are definitely some of the film’s highlights.
But these few bright moments along with Chan’s game showing are not enough to disguise the fact that Skiptrace is an overall subpar effort. Chan may add a couple of new tricks to his already chock full sleeves here, but simply put, you’ve already seen him do this movie better on a number of occasions. So unless you’re a Chan diehard like I am who tends to watch everything he does, you can probably skip this one.
Last Updated: November 17, 2016