Skiptrace

F*** Magazine

SKIPTRACE

Director : Renny Harlin
Cast : Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bingbing, Eric Tsang, Michael Wong, Zhang Lan-Xin, Eve Torres, Winston Chao
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 47 mins
Opens : 22 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Skiptrace posterThe boy who cried wolf would be really great friends with the actor who cried “I’m retiring from action movies.” Jackie Chan knows which side his bread is buttered on, and is back in another action comedy, playing Hong Kong cop Bennie Chan (Chan). Following the death of Bennie’s partner (Tsang), Bennie has been pursuing billionaire Victor Wong (Zhao), whom he believes to be a criminal mastermind known as ‘The Matador’. Bennie has been caring for his partner’s daughter Samantha (Fan), the head of guest relations at a casino in Macau who gets mixed up with Victor’s thugs. Wheeler-dealer American gambler Connor Watts (Knoxville) happens to be in the casino at the same time, accidentally coming into possession of evidence that could prove Victor’s guilt. Bennie tracks Connor down to Russia, freeing him from Russian mobsters so Connor can be taken back to Hong Kong to testify against Victor. With Samantha in danger, Bennie and Connor become unlikely partners, traversing across China and racing against the clock.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan at the border

Skiptrace hasn’t had a particularly smooth production process: Sam Fell was initially set to direct the film but was replaced by Renny Harlin, Seann William Scott dropped out for Johnny Knoxville to take his place, and cinematographer Chan Kwok-Hung drowned off Lantau Island on the set of the film. Jackie himself had a near-death experience filming in a roaring Guilin river. There’s an awkward herky-jerkiness to the pacing of Skiptrace, and teaming Jackie up with a fast-talking American sidekick couldn’t reek more of Rush Hour’s leftovers if it wanted to. The plot is cliché-ridden and while there are several action sequences which showcase Jackie’s signature prop comedy fighting style, these seem awkwardly slotted in instead of unfolding organically within the plot. A fight in a Russian packing plant that sees Jackie use an oversized Matryoshka doll to fend off ex pro-wrestler Eve Torres’ generic henchwoman is moderately fun, but serves more as a reminder of Jackie’s past glories than anything else.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan on the river

Picturesque locations including China’s Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces and parts of Mongolia add a travelogue element to the bog-standard buddy action comedy premix. Bennie and Connor get mixed up with locals and are both fishes out of water as they wander through the middle of local festivals, traverse raging rapids on a raft made from inflated pig skins and play drinking games with Mongolian tribespeople. It all looks intended to make Western audiences exclaim “Oh, how exotic!” Even then, Skiptrace often looks embarrassingly cheap. A sequence in which Bennie and Connor escape their pursuers via zipline features some painfully subpar green screen work.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan in broken cart

Jackie’s no-nonsense detective driven by revenge, who is encouraged to loosen up throughout the film, is quite the bore. “It’s all the same: cop from Hong Kong, cop from China,” Jackie bemoaned of his Hollywood film roles in an interview he gave in 2004. How little things change. Knoxville gets stuffed into a trashcan, splashed with mud and has a horse defecate mere inches from his face, but then again, the former Jackass star is probably best friends with indignity. The wily American who tries to talk his way out of everything is a tired trope that Skiptrace fails to put even the slightest spin on. The dynamic between the two characters is predictable: chalk and cheese have to become unwilling partners to stay alive, overcoming initial distrust of and dislike for each other. A large amount of the comedy falls flat, but the emotional beats are absolutely dead on arrival, and there’s nothing to either of these characters for the audience to grab on to. There is a bit when Jackie performs quite the unexpected cover of a hit song that did bring a smile to this reviewer’s face.

Skiptrace Fan Bingbing and Jackie Chan

Despite getting third billing behind Jackie and Knoxville, Fan’s time onscreen is brief and she plays little more than the damsel in distress. The cardboard villains (thugs in business suits, tattooed Russian street toughs, a corrupt official or two) are unable to amount to compelling challenge for our heroes. While Harlin’s earlier filmography includes the relatively entertaining likes of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, he’s also responsible for such infamous bombs as Cutthroat Island and The Legend of Hercules. With Skiptrace, it seems like Harlin was putting together a flat-packed Ikea-esque action comedy but missed a few steps during assembly. In the grand scheme of things, the 120-minute running time is far from merciless, but this still comes off as a slog rather than a romp.

Summary: Sure, it’s impressive that Jackie Chan still kicking at 62, but Skiptrace feels long past its sell-by date, laboured and clumsily made instead of light on its feet.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

For F*** Magazine

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 

Director : Jonathan Liebesman
Cast : Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Noel Fisher, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Mos Def, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Woodburn
Genre : Action, Adventure
Opens : 7 August 2014
Rating : PG (Some Violence)
Running time: 102 mins

Originally created as a one-off parody by comic book artists/writers Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became an unlikely pop culture phenomenon in the 80s and 90s. This film marks their first live-action big screen appearance since 1993.

Leader Leonardo (Ploszek/Knoxville), hot-headed Raphael (Ritchson), jokester Michelangelo (Fisher) and tech wiz Donatello (Howard) are the titular reptiles. Once ordinary box turtles, they were mutated into giant, intelligent humanoid creatures thanks to a laboratory experiment known as Project Renaissance. Their “father” and sensei Master Splinter (Woodburn/Shalhoub), a mutated rat, was also born from the same experiment. Reporter April O’Neil (Fox) discovers the existence of the turtles as they fight back against the militant Foot Clan, led by an armour-clad warlord named The Shredder (Masamune). The turtles befriend O’Neil and they work in tandem to bring down the Shredder and his partner in crime, industrialist Eric Sachs (Fichtner). Sachs’ plan? To engulf New York in a biochemical attack launched from his tower smack dab in downtown Manhattan.


Many kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s hold TMNT very dear, the 1987 animated series still a pop culture staple. As such, shellheads understandably seized upon this new iteration. Everything was troubling, from the revised extra-terrestrial-linked origins to the casting of Megan Fox as April O’Neil to the drastic re-designs to Michael Bay in the producer’s chair. Throughout the film, one gets the sense that director Jonathan Liebesman and producer Bay are smugly going “see fanboys? William Fichtner isn’t Shredder after all. They aren’t exactly aliens. Nothing to worry about, we got it all 100% right!” Well, of course they didn’t, but there is just enough in Turtles ‘14 for some to consider it a sufficiently enjoyable ride. 


The new origin story has shades of The Amazing Spider-Man and, perhaps not coincidentally, the climactic action sequences of both movies take place atop the Condé Nast Building. Thankfully, the defining personality traits of each of the four turtles have been preserved, even though they are often played up to unnecessary extents. Michelangelo doesn’t have to spend the entirety of the film leering at April, does he?  The new looks for the turtles are quite over-designed, not unlike how the Transformers are in the live-action film series. They are hulking, top-heavy, loaded with accoutrements such as shell necklaces, sunglasses and communications backpacks and have unsettling noses and lips. The turtles are meant to be endearing if not downright cute. Here, their appearances are just disturbing. The character animation on the turtles is often dynamic but lacks the photo-realism just put on display in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Some may argue that the versions designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in the 1990 film look dated and silly today. You can rest assured that by 2038, the designs of these turtles will look even more ridiculous than they already do. Shredder comes off poorly too, looking like he was designed by a 12-year-old exclaiming “the more knives, the scarier he’ll be! More knives, more knives!”


Megan Fox is a self-proclaimed TMNT fan and actively pursued the part of April O’Neil, but that does not change the fact that she is woefully miscast. Fox’s acting range is as limited as ever and her eyes seem disconcertingly dead. Malina Weissman, who portrays Young April in flashback scenes, acts better than Fox does. Jane Levy, Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Olsen were considered before Fox got the part – any of those actresses would’ve been a better fit. The yellow jacket is a nice visual reference to O’Neil’s original costume though. Arnett provides hit-and-miss comic relief as the tagalong cameraman Vern and Minae Noji goes all dragon lady as Karai. William Fichtner hams it way up as Eric Sachs. He’s a dab hand at playing slimy villains but fails to make much of an impact as the baddie here, saddled with such lines as “time to take a bite out of the big apple”.

            On the plus side, the film’s 101 minute running time is way easier to stomach than the 165 minute duration of Transformers: Age of Extinction. The action sequences are also more coherent and entertaining here and an extended chase down a snowy slope involving rocket snowboards, an avalanche and a jack-knifing semi-truck is actually quite impressive. That sequence also contains some neat 3D effects. While some of the jokes are annoying, several do land. This reviewer enjoyed a bit in which Michelangelo attempts to serenade April with an off-key rendition of Happy Together – which, of course, was sung by 60s group the Turtles. The film also has a sweet flashback sequence showing the turtles as babies under Splinter’s care and we get a quaint stop motion-style time-lapse image of the turtles growing up.


            In spite of the violence and sexual references, this movie is a whole lot less inappropriate for children than the Transformers films and can be considered a passable action adventure flick for tweens. It should also be some small comfort that the characters of Leo, Mikey, Donnie and Raph haven’t actually been butchered past recognition (even if their appearances have been). It’s silly, but a film called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has every right to be. That said, Guardians of the Galaxy does the irreverent, pop culture-referencing, action-comedy thing with a whole lot more wit, heart and style.
Summary: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has its moments but on the whole, it’s still lagging behind a good number of other blockbusters this summer.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong