Unless we're talking about documentaries or historical dramas, most movies are, in one way or another, visualized bits of make-believe. Accordingly, it usually doesn't take much to get the average viewer to suspend their disbelief and go along with whatever is offered.
That is, unless any such film breaks or violates the rules of its own, particular universe. While reaction to such occurrences depends on the severity and number of such violations, they're usually not a good thing, regardless of whether they're purposeful or not.
Such is the case with "Shanghai Knights," the sequel to "Shanghai Noon," the martial arts-laden western that paired Jackie Chan ("The Tuxedo," the "Rush Hour" movies) with Owen Wilson ("I Spy," "Zoolander") in hopes of being as big as Chan's other mismatched pair hit, "Rush Hour." As was the case with the first film, we're supposed to marvel at Chan's acrobatic and creative fight sequences and laugh at the culture clash between his and Owen's laidback surfer-style cowboy antics.
All of that occurs, but the thing most educated people are apt to notice is the cultural revisionism that runs rampant throughout the production. While a bit of that was present last time around - Wilson's character started calling Chan's character "John Wayne" since he couldn't pronounce his name and a ZZ Top song played during a barroom brawl - it's overdone to the point of annoyance here.
Not only does the John Wayne bit continue, but we're also subjected to Forrest Gump style revisionist history or remarks regarding Jack the Ripper, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chaplin, Hollywood movies, zeppelins, Stonehenge and more. For a while, some of that and the various period songs (from the wrong period, natch) are cute, but they start piling up so deep that the quality wanes much like the related punch lines (since we see them coming long before they arrive).
To make matters worse, and unlike Gump, the timelines for such matters are incorrect, a point that will likely remove some viewers from the proceedings as they ponder what is and isn't temporally and historically correct or possible.
That's not meant to imply that anything about the plot by screenwriters Alfred Gough & Miles Millar ("Shanghai Noon," "Showtime") is deep or complicated. In fact, one gets the sense that they and director David Dobkin ("Clay Pigeons") threw in such material simply as a means to differentiate this film from the first.
Sure, the setting (London) and villains -- Aidan Gillen ("My Kingdom," TV's "Queer as Folk") and Donnie Yen ("Blade II," "Highlander: Endgame") - are different, but the formula is the same. In short, Wilson does his normal contemporary surfer shtick while Chan amazes with his agile physical prowess. The latter is far more imaginative and entertaining than the former, resulting in a mediocre hit or miss effort.
Despite the nearly nonstop flurry of action and comedy, most everything feels rather flat or repetitive. When things aren't repeated from the first film (which is to be expected from a sequel) or run into the ground (all of the England bashing), other bits are lifted from other films (such as the revolving fireplace fight scene and the hands on the statue's bust moment from two of the Indiana Jones films).
The one thing the film has going for it is Chan and his highly choreography and elaborate fight, stunt and action scenes. While there's nothing really new here, Chan puts enough nimble twists on previous stunts - including a fun homage to "Singin' in the Rain" (even if it's more than 60 years before Gene Kelly would do the same bit) - that they certainly make the rest of the material more bearable.
While physically proficient for the parts, Gillen and Yen otherwise come off as flat and less than memorable villains. Fann Wong ("YŁeliang de mimi," "Zhen xin hua"), on the other hand, seems poised to accept the martial arts baton from Michelle Yeoh. Aaron Johnson ("Tom & Thomas") and Thomas Fisher ("The Mummy Returns," "Firelight") are adequate as the two historical figures, even if the temporal and historical aspects about them are wrong.
Granted, nothing about the film is meant to be taken seriously. Yet, while the same was true for the first film that I rather enjoyed, this one just didn't do it for me. In fact, the most entertaining part of it was the outtakes during the end credits. Perhaps one day we'll get a movie consisting of just them. Until then, we'll have to put up with the passable, but rather disappointing "Shanghai Knights." It rates as just a 5 out of 10.