[box cover]

Shanghai Knights

What on earth is happening to Owen Wilson's career? Since his under-the-radar debut in Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket (1996), it didn't take long for the talented comic actor to find his way into high-profile films, where his loopy charm brightened the surroundings (viz., loosening up the Bruckheimer action of Armageddon, delivering smart support in Meet the Parents). And his screenwriter's card is up to date as well with co-credit on Wes Anderson's first three pictures. But as soon as Owen became a Movie Star, his top-billed roles have been hit-and-miss affairs — he was genuinely charming in Shanghai Noon (2000), somewhat miscast in Behind Enemy Lines (2001), and flatter than unleavened bread in I Spy (2002). Thus, Shanghai Knights (2003) is a disappointment — those hoping that the dull antics of I Spy would be a small pothole in an otherwise stellar career now have some cause to worry. Knights re-teams Wilson with Jackie Chan in this follow-up to Shanghai Noon — this time around it's 1887 and Chon Wang (Chan) learns that his father has been murdered, while his sister Lin (Fann Wong) is in London looking for the killer. Wang thus leaves his job as a local sheriff in Nevada and heads for New York City to find Roy O'Bannon (Wilson), who has stashed their gold (from the last movie) but can't account for it. Thus, the two head for England, where they find Lin, who's been arrested for trying to kill Lord Nelson Rathbone (Aidan Gillen), who's responsible for her father's death and also in possession of the purloined Imperial Seal of China. Lin's soon sprung from jail, and with the help of a street urchin (Aaron Johnson) and a police inspector (Tom Fisher), the trio plan to recover the valuable artifact. Of course, Shanghai Knights is just as much a Jackie Chan movie as an Owen Wilson vehicle, and fans will want to catch this one just to see the man in action. While Jackie doesn't have the same sort of athleticism that elicits oooohs and aaaaahs the way his older films do, he does enjoy tarting up his set-pieces with little details — fisticuffs in a New York hotel lobby soon turn into a Buster Keaton-ish gag with a revolving door and a squad of Keystone Cops, while a fight in a London Market eventually becomes an elaborate wink to Singin' in the Rain. Jackie is not what Jackie used to be, but these small moments are amusing. However, Wilson's performance is on par with his I Spy outing — he's too confined, and often it seems like he's reading (unfunny) lines rather than finding a rhythm. In fact, it's not hard to guess that Wilson simply doesn't do a lot of improvising this time around, which is one of his greatest talents. One peek at the outtakes during the closing credits, where most of the film's actual laughs can be found, reveals a playful side the actor never got into the movie itself. Buena Vista's DVD release of Shanghai Knights features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Features include a commentary with director David Dobkin, a second track with screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the behind-the-scenes featurette "Fight Manual" with Chan and Dobkin (9 min.), 11 deleted scenes, the brief "Action Overload" (a montage of clips from the movie made to look like an old silent film), and a THX Optimizer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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