The Austin Chronicle

Shanghai Noon

Rated PG-13, 110 min. Directed by Tom Dey. Starring Walt Groggins, Adrien Dorval, Jason Connery, Eric Chen, Xander Berkeley, Curtis Armstrong, Rafael Báez, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 26, 2000

After more than 70 films, Jackie Chan has finally met his match, and wouldn't you know, it's Owen Wilson (UT acting alum and Wes Anderson's writing partner). With his scruffy blond mane and that battered nose that looks as though he borrowed it from Gerard Depardieu and then ran it through a Cuisinart a few times before conveniently forgetting to return it, Wilson's as unlikely a movie star as you'll find. But there he is, stealing nearly every scene from the mugging international action star and turning what almost surely would have been a dry and dusty parody of the Western genre into a whole new breed of neurotic period comedy. There's no way to overstate just how good Wilson is in this film. As winningly inept train robber Roy O'Bannon, his goofy, laconic delivery matches his tired black chaps and fringed rawhide jacket to a tee: He's Robert Redford's Sundance Kid filtered through a hickory haze of Woody Allen quirks, hanging on to his last vestige of male pride as all those around him head off for greener pastures. Shanghai Noon opens with Roy and gang perched atop a butte overlooking the train trestles below. He's using a crude, hand-drawn map to patiently explain their plan of attack, but the grizzled trio is having none of it. Frustrated, he throws the map away, letting them “wing it” instead. Anyone who's seen Wes Anderson's first feature Bottle Rocket will recognize the allusion to Wilson's map-happy character Dignan from that film -- whether this was a planned homage or just one of those instances of great minds thinking alike, it works, and the film follows from there, gaining speed even as it trumps itself again and again with some of the best comedic dialogue (courtesy of Wilson's on-set rewriting skills) around. The plot of Shanghai Noon is standard fare: Chan plays an Imperial Guard in the Forbidden City who is sent to Nevada to rescue Princess Pei Pei (Liu) after she's been kidnapped and held for ransom by a pair of generic bad guys. Wilson and Chan team up along the way and eventually become the sort of mismatched buddies that Chan's been essaying for years now (think Rush Hour in the old West and you're not too far off the mark). And while Shanghai Noon is no Blazing Saddles -- many of the gags go wide of the mark and some supposedly wacky Native American ripostes feel cribbed straight from Abbott & Costello -- it's far better than the previews would have you believe. At 46, Jackie Chan isn't the daredevil he once was, however. I caught at least one instance of a stuntman doubling for the notoriously flexible actor, although that should be of little concern to mainstream fans. The fight scenes here were choreographed by Chan's old Peking Opera pal Biao Yuen, and although adherents of Chan's Drunken Master theatrics will no doubt be less than impressed, it's still head and shoulders (and arms and legs) above similar Hollywood skirmishes. It's Wilson's film all the way. When he's off-screen the film bogs down; it becomes almost palpably tedious and predictable. When Wilson is on, though, he's brings an unexpected frisson of surfer-esque chutzpah to the role of Roy, a bad guy with good intentions, a cowboy who, dammit, just wants to be loved.

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