Netherlands/China/Hong Kong/US, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 3-D (China only), 107 mins.
Director: Renny Harlin.
Yet another action pairing of Cheng Long [Jackie Chan] with a US performer is utterly formulaic this time.
Hong Kong, the present day. Nine years after watching his partner Bai Zhiyong (Zeng Zhiwei) jump to his death strapped inside a suicide jacket, police detective Chen Gangsheng (Cheng Long) is still obsessed with tracking down the person responsible, drugs lord The Matador. Chen Gangsheng is convinced The Matador is outwardly respectable businessman Wang Weidong (Zhao Wenxuan) but has been unable to prove it. After leading a botched raid among the stilt houses of Tai’ao [Tai O], he is told by his boss, Tang (Wang Minde), to take a month off. Meanwhile, somewhere in Siberia, US con man Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville) is held captive by Russian gangsters led by Sergey (Charlie Rawes), who kidnapped him in Macau after he’d witnessed Wang Weidong shoot a woman in a hotel lift (Qiu Lufan). In Macau, Connor Watts had also got to know Bai Shu (Fang Bingbing), the hospitality manager of the hotel; she’s ordered by her boss to find Connor Watts, who once cheated the hotel’s casino out of US$1 million. The daughter of Bai Zhiyong, Bai Shu asks the help of her unofficial guardian Chen Gangsheng, who has no choice but to agree. Chen Gangsheng flies to Siberia, rescues Connor Watts, and takes him by train back to Hong Kong, as his prisoner. After being forced to leave the train, they end up in Mongolia, hire a rickety car, walk across the Gobi Desert, come across a Mongolian encampment, are arrested at the Chinese border, and are escorted back to Hong Kong. En route, however, there are yet more surprises in store for them.
Yet another trip to the international odd-couple well in which Cheng Long 成龙 [Jackie Chan] is paired with a US performer, Skiptrace 绝地逃亡 generates no special chemistry between its two leads as they spat their way across Siberia, Mongolia and southern China, all the time pursued by Russian gangsters working for a Hong Kong druglord. It’s all a long way from Cheng’s pairings with Chris Tucker (Rush Hour, 1998; Rush Hour 2, 2001) and Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, 2000; Shanghai Knights, 2003) – the first relying on a cross-racial teaming, the second on a cross-genre mash-up – in which the Hong Kong star was still able to mine the Chinese cheekie-chappie image he’d already patented internationally. In the utterly formulaic Skiptrace the pairing is purely conventional; in addition, Cheng, 62, too often looks his age, does only minimal action, and this time is clearly not even doing some of the more energetic stunts.
After a 20-minute set-up, the film settles into an uncomplicated road-movie format, with Cheng’s Hong Kong cop and his prisoner (an American con man) being chased across various exotic locations with scant regard for actual geography. (At one point they simply walk across the Gobi Desert. Really.) Despite an expected scene in which the pair stop arguing and start to bond, there’s no genuine give-and-take between the two along the lines of the Tucker and Wilson films. Cheng looks tired, and the film, ironically, is only kept alive by the motormouth performance of his much younger co-star, Johnny Knoxville (Jackass), 45.
Other roles are little to nothing: in a non-diva role, China’s Fan Bingbing 范冰冰 makes minimal impression, despite her fractionally improved English; Taiwan’s Zhao Wenxuan 赵文瑄 [Winston Chao] has even less stature as the main villain; Hong Kong’s Zeng Zhiwei 曾志伟 [Eric Tsang] clocks in and out; South Korean TV actor Yeon Jeong-hun 연정훈 | 延政勋 is almost invisible as a Hong Kong cop; and Chinese-American veteran Wang Minde 王敏德 [Michael Wong] repeats a role he’s played dozens of times. On the action side, Latina American professional wrestler Eva Torres makes some impression as a Russian enforcer, holding her own against a scaled-down Cheng.
Finnish-born, US-based veteran Renny Harlin directs mechanically, with none of the energy he briefly showed two decades ago (Cliffhanger, 1993; The Long Kiss Goodnight, 1996). Technical credits are OK, and don’t betray the troubled production schedule that began in autumn 2014. The film is dedicated to experienced Hong Kong d.p. Chen Guoxiong 陈国雄, who drowned during shooting off Dayushan [Lantau] island, Hong Kong, on 17 Dec 2014. “Skiptrace” is North American slang for tracking down someone who has deliberately gone missing. The Chinese title means “Flight from Danger”. In the Mainland, where it was released in 3-D, the film amazingly hawled in a hunky RMB890 million.
Presented by Saban Films (US), Dasyum Media (NL), Talent International Film (CN), Shanghai New Culture Media Group (CN). Produced by Dasym Media (NL), Talent International Film (CN), The Entertainer Production (HK).
Script: Jay Longino, BenDavid Grabinski. Original story: Jay Longino. Photography: Chen Zhiying. Additional photography: Xu Shaojiang, Chen Guoxiong. Editing: Xu Hongyu [Derek Hui]. Music: Chen Guangrong. Art direction: Liu Shiyun. Costume design: Bai Yongan. Sound: Chen Weixiong, Wang Danrong. Action: Wu Gang.
Cast: Cheng Long (Chen Gangsheng/Bennie), Johnny Knoxville (Connor Watts), Fan Bingbing (Bai Shu/Samantha), Zeng Zhiwei [Eric Tsang] (Bai Zhiyong, Bai Shu’s father), Eve Torres (Dasha, Sergey’s enforcer), Zhao Wenxuan [Winston Chao] (Wang Weidong/Victor), Yeon Jeong-hun (Handsome Willie), Shi Shi (Liu Sili/Leslie, female fighter), Wang Minde [Michael Wong] (Tang, Bennie Chan’s boss), Guo Pinchao (Lin Mingda/Esmond), Zhang Lanxin (Tingting), Wu Yonglun (Willie’s assistant), Na Wei (Wu), Charlie Rawes (Sergey), Mikhail Gorevoy (Dima), Sara Forsberg (Natalya, Sergey’s daughter), Jai Day (Vladimir), Qiu Lufan (Esther Yee), Aotegen (Mongolian car salesman), Baisiguleng (Mongolian chief), Jiang Baocheng (Mongolian wrestler), Yang Yixuan (village boy).
Release: China, 21 Jul 2016; Hong Kong, 22 Jul 2016; US, Netherlands, 11 Aug 2016; US, 2 Sep 2016.