Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Chan Can Cook

By Devin D. O'Leary

MARCH 30, 1998:  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: All is right with the universe when Jackie Chan is in movie theaters. For the past couple years, New Line Cinema has been serving up Jackie's old Hong Kong stuff every four months like clockwork. They're starting to run thin, though. The latest, Mr. Nice Guy, is among Jackie's final overseas productions, one of three he shot in Australia before immigrating to Canada and ultimately to America (woo-hoo!). By the end of summer, we should see Jackie's first American produced feature, Rush Hour (co-starring, god help us, Chris Rock). Until then, New Line is keeping us well fed with Jackie's earlier efforts.

Mr. Nice Guy sticks pretty close to the tried-and-true Jackie Chan formula. This time, instead of being a cop named Jackie, our man plays a chef named Jackie--same dif, he's still called upon to kick frequent and copious ass. One day, while wandering around downtown Melbourne, our culinary ass-kicker bumbles across a TV reporter, who's just videotaped a particularly nasty bloodbath between rival drug-running gangs. Naturally, these gangs want the incriminating tape back, and it's up to Jackie to save the day! The laughable villains are a cliché bunch of Italian mobsters and some cartoonish gang-banger types. Of course, nobody watches a Jackie Chan movie for the character motivation. So long as they sneer menacingly before they get a sneaker in the face, who cares?

Mr. Nice Guy is directed by Jackie Chan pal (and fellow martial arts legend) Samo Hung (director of such Jackie gems as Dragons Forever and Meals on Wheels). Although Mr. Nice Guy lacks the crazed stunt work of Police Story and the jaw-dropping martial arts of Drunken Master II, it's still got its fair share of fun. This one fits more closely with Meals on Wheels (sometimes called Wheels on Meals) and Jackie's other purely comic flicks. Samo (who reserves a funny cameo for himself as an abused bike messenger), lacks the broad comic chops of fellow director Stanley Tong. Although many hardcore fans poo-poo Tong's directing work on Rumble in the Bronx, I still regard that film as one of Jackie's most accessible. Samo seems more unabashedly funny when directing himself (check out Encounters of the Spooky Kind, and you'll see what I mean). What Samo does possess, though, is an innate understanding of martial arts in general, and a powerful understanding of Jackie's skills in particular. The hand-to-hand fights here are shot perfectly (no American will ever capture Jackie Chan this well).

Samo also has the good sense to keep the energy level from flagging. There's no time here to dally on the bad acting or silly plot mechanics--we've got buildings to trash and bad guys to thrash. When it's cooking, Mr. Nice Guy mirrors the comic lunacy of a Bugs Bunny short, as in a raucous construction site fight employing every tool on hand, including a highly cartoonish collection of identical doors (you know, the kind that Bugs and Yosemite Sam chase each other through all the time). Mr. Nice Guy still manages to save up enough energy for a slam-bang finale that rates only slightly higher on the destruct-o-meter than Rumble in the Bronx's scenery-shredding showdown.

I tell you, there's nothing that makes me feel more like a 12-year-old than catching a Jackie Chan matinee, shoveling fistfuls of popcorn into my gob and guzzling flat Dr. Pepper. When I got out of seeing Mr. Nice Guy, I felt like I had just played hooky. What more can you ask for?


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