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The Road to Hong Kong

There are few things sadder in showbiz than the ravages time and complacency can wreak on comic timing. Combine that with the pathos of a once-great film series gone to seed, and you're starting to get an idea just how disappointing 1962's The Road to Hong Kong actually is. The final entry in the seven-film Road series — made nine years after the previous installment, 1953's Road to BaliHong Kong is the Godfather III of laffs, serving to remind us of the fragile chemistry fueling every great comedy team. Whereas the previous films often crackled with politically incorrect ad-libs and sex and drug references — all tossed off while Bob Hope and Bing Crosby conned their way around the globe — Road to Hong Kong plays like a museum piece; the whiff of self-congratulatory, borscht-belt decay wafts off every surface of the film. The plot finds Bob and Bing once again playing vaudevillians on the lam; this time (in an attempt by the filmmakers to jump on the James Bond craze), they get mixed up in a spy adventure involving a S.M.E.R.S.H.-like outfit trying to rule the world from space. Of course, "plot" always took a back seat to the playful interplay in the Road pictures — and therein lies Road to Hong Kong's fatal flaw. There's something dreadfully "off" in the Hope/Crosby banter here, and that banter was what made the previous films endure despite the bad sets, racist jokes, and cornball villains. Hope, traditionally cast in the series as a spastic dupe, looks too slick and satisfied here, as if he'd wandered in off the set of Call Me Bwana or one of his NBC-TV specials; meanwhile, Crosby (a much funnier actor in the earlier films that he was ever given credit for) comes across as tired and bored and mildly uncomfortable in the romantic lead. As a result, there's a critical lack of sharpness to the proceedings — both in writing and delivery (and that lack of sharpness extends, alas, to the lame cameos by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, David Niven and Peter Sellers). Adding insult to injury, the actress who held her own against Hope and Crosby in every other Road film — Dorothy Lamour, that voluptuous, high-spirited siren of comic sexuality — merely pops in for an eight-minute musical number before being discarded from the story like so much middle-aged rubbish. It's the best eight minutes in the movie; the rest of the time, the thankless ingénue role goes to frosty Joan Collins. All that said, MGM's new DVD looks great, even if the restored picture only serves to bring out everybody's wrinkles; owning this may be a must for completists — but if you're just starting out on the Road series, for God's sake put this aside and check out Road to Morocco, Road to Utopia or Road to Rio first. Theatrical trailer, plus English, Spanish subtitles and mono language tracks. Keep-case.
—Alexandra DuPont

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