The last time I saw a new Jackie Chan movie, last year’s Police Story: Lockdown, I was given a bit of pause at the chaotic nature of its action cinematography and grim storyline. It seemed as if an aging Jackie Chan was taking pages from Liam Neeson, going grim and dour while allowing the camera movement and nonsensical editing present the illusion of any speed that advancing age might’ve robbed the action star of. Where was the Chan that I fell in love with, the one that blends chop socky action with the physical grace and humor of a silent movie star like Buster Keaton? My fears that Jackie Chan would continue that trend have just been assuaged by Skiptrace, the new film starring Chan and Johnny Knoxville which is breaking box office records in China. Directed by Renny Harlin, Skiptrace is a fun little riff on Martin Brest’s Midnight Run with a cop and a crook on a journey to elude the violent criminals hot on their trail.
Bennie Chan (Chan) is an honorable cop in Hong Kong. Years prior, his partner was killed by the ruthless gangster who wallows in anonymity known as the Matador. He’s taken the mantle of godfather to his slain partner’s daughter Samantha (Bingbing Fan) quite seriously, looking out for her in any way he can. Bennie spends his days searching for the real identity of the Matador to the chagrin of his superior Captain Tang (Michael Wong). A bust intended to root out the Matador goes wrong and Bennie takes the blame, being suspended for the failed operation.
On the other side of the continent in Siberia, Russia, Connor Watts (Knoxville) is in a bit of pickle. He’s tied up, dangling upside down with his head just inches from the hardwood floor of a bowling alley. A former romantic rendezvous with a gangster’s daughter has left her pregnant, and he can either become her husband or face their violent wrath for his impropriety. Before he was in the hands of the Russian mob, Connor was in Macau gambling where he met Samantha as she works the floor of the casino. In trying to elude the gangsters on his trail, Connor witnesses the murder of a young woman who gives him a cellphone with valuable intelligence as to the true identity of the Matador. Samantha coaxes her godfather to track down the kidnapped American under the assumption that he robbed the casino of millions, not that he witnessed a murder. Bennie swoops in a saves Connor from the Russians, but then the unlikely duo have to make their way back to Hong Kong while avoiding both the Russian mob and the Hong Kong gangsters that both want them dead.
What the script by BenDavid Grabinski and Jay Longino lacks in originality it makes up for with sheer verve. Skiptrace wastes no time in getting the characters from one sticky situation for another, and always with a pleasant sense of humor. There’s also a sharp contrast in the characters of Bennie and Connor that aids their bickering until it slowly forms into a partnership. Each character seems tailor made for their actors, with Chan guided by a code of honor and Knoxville willing to use his slippery charms to elude any situation.
Once one of the premiere action directors of the ‘90s, Renny Harlin’s career has never rebounded following the disastrous Cutthroat Island. Just because his commercial prospects have diminished doesn’t mean his ability to stage action has. Skiptrace has numerous action set pieces that are wild fun. The hand-to-hand combat scenes play out in coherently framed and edited sequences which highlight that Jackie Chan still moves an amazing rate of speed even in his 60s. There is some dodgy CGI work in the movie, but those moments are relatively rare as Skiptrace is an action movie of stunts, fights, and crashes and not a computer generated spectacle.
Each Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville are known for their physicality, though it safe to say that their styles don’t overlap. Chan moves with speed and grace while Knoxville is known for the resounding thud he makes when landing on the ground. Skiptrace makes the most of each of their physical set of skills, with Chan performing amazing leaps and twists as Knoxville stumbles, tumbles, and crashes to the floor. Some of the banter the two exchange gets a bit shaky at times, and one sequence with a bit of gay panic probably should’ve been left behind in the ‘90s. But as the film progresses and the relationship between the two characters grows stronger, the humor between the two finds a stronger footing.
Skiptrace doesn’t break any new ground in the action genre, but it’s a really entertaining piece of action filmmaking, a throwback with modern sensibilities. One can’t help but chuckle at characters like the buxom Russian gangster donning leather fetish wear in every scene. More importantly, Skiptrace feels like a classic Jackie Chan movie, one that matches the fisticuffs with physical comedy. If you ever wanted to see a movie where a Mongolian village joins Jackie Chan in singing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” Skiptrace is the movie for you.
- Overall Score
An entertaining riff on Midnight Run, Skiptrace brings out the best of Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville in an action-comedy that moves at a blistering pace.