[Screen It]

(2003) (Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: An American pickpocket joins forces with a Tibetan monk to protect an ancient, but powerful scroll from falling into the hands of a Nazi who's been after it for the past sixty years.
For the past 60 years, an unnamed Tibetan Monk (CHOW YUN-FAT) has protected an ancient, but all-powerful scroll that could cause horrible chaos should it fall into the wrong hands, such as those of Struker (KAREL RODEN). He's a WWII era Nazi who's been after it as long as the Monk has been protecting it, and now his granddaughter, Nina (VICTORIA SMURFIT), and her team of thugs have joined in the search.

With his 60-year term up, the Monk is searching for his replacement, but can't believe that all signs are pointing to American pickpocket Kar (SEANN WILLIAM SCOTT). With the police chasing him and Nina's goons pursuing the Monk, the two end up as unlikely partners in protecting the scroll. With the aid of street girl Jade (JAIME KING), who's really a Russian mafia princess, they try to repel repeat attempts by Nina and thus Struker from obtaining and using it for their own nefarious agenda.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
With each passing year, hundreds of new movies hit the theaters and just as many or more titles go straight to video. With such a yearly onslaught, moviegoers and particularly critics have to accept that the chances of any given release being unique or completely different continually decrease to the point that it's almost not worth hoping, wishing or praying that a film will exhibit such qualities.

Accordingly, one must also accept that more and more releases are increasingly going to look more and more like previous films or at least emulate, borrow or steal bits and pieces from them. As much as I hate to admit it, that's okay as long as the new effort puts enough of a fresh spin on said material to make it appear or at least feel somewhat fresh. Such was the case with 2002's "The Transporter" that didn't have an original bone its body, yet managed to make its recycled material fun and engaging.

An example where it doesn't work is this year's "Bulletproof Monk." Part "Rush Hour, " part "Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, " with bits of "The Matrix," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Karate Kid" and even James Bond thrown in for "good" measure, the film features the culture clash pairing of Hong Kong favorite Chow Yun-Fat with "American Pie's" own Seann William Scott.

Yet another comedy/action hybrid, the film is a mess from start to finish, and never quite veers far enough into complete camp (although it often comes close) to make it fun in such regards. It probably doesn't help that I'm not a big fan of the cinematic martial arts style where characters literally defy gravity and/or physics by jumping, leaping, spinning and doing other moves not even the great Jackie Chan can muster.

Unlike similar ones in "Crouching Tiger" that were done to appear graceful (but still turned me off), the ones here are done for comedy and/or straight action. They're far more successful in the former where Yun-Fat's character personifies the old saying that Weebles wobble, but don't fall down.

The action bits, however, are poorly done. As directed by first-time filmmaker Paul Hunter (from the world of music videos), they're a mess, with lots of quick editing to do a "Steven Seagal" in covering up whatever obvious shortcomings the performers had in "realistically" pulling off the stunts and fighting. Coupled with some bad and obviously faked visual effects, such scenes come off as laughable bad and certainly less than engaging.

The script by Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris ("Demon Knight," "Men of War"), which is based on a brief comic book series, doesn't help matters. The villains who are Nazis bit is too much cliché and not enough camp. The "Karate Kid"/ "Rush Hour" mix of Yun-Fat and Scott doesn't yield enough laughs - although there are a handful - and instead simply goes through the expected motions.

Yun-Fat ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Anna and the King") exudes his usual amount of onscreen charisma and confidence, and even gets in one, brief slow-motion spinning move while shooting guns that will remind fans of his far better films of yesteryear. He's best here in the lighter and more amusing moments, but the rest is too easily forgettable.

Scott ("Evolution," "Dude, Where's My Car?") picks up the contemporary American bit from where Owen Wilson and Chris Tucker left off in their films. While obviously bulked up for the role, he can't do much with the paint by number (or is that by screenwriting software) character.

Jaime King ("Slackers," "Pearl Harbor") appears as the obligatory kick-butt love interest (who just so happens to a be Russian mafia princess), Victoria Smurfit ("About a Boy," "The Beach") plays her steely, Aryan adversary, while Karel Roden ("Blade II," "15 Minutes") plays the boring and flat, but occasionally Bond-like villain (late in the film).

I'm not sure if the film would have really worked on anything but a pure camp or spoof level. Whatever the case, it clearly needed either that or some more finely tuned and crafted action and comedy to make its recycled material more palatable. Certainly not critic or even average viewer-proof, "Bulletproof Monk" rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 14, 2003 / Posted April 16, 2003

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