Talking about a Jackie Chan movie can sometimes make one sound like an evangelist desperately trying to convert nonbelievers with tales of glories past. Sure, “Mr. Nice Guy” is all jaw-dropping stunts and no plot to speak of, but in the old days, one Chan film had enough story twists and action for four movies. If you work out the aesthetic mathematics and work in the Doppler effect, Chan devotees are still ahead in sheer dizzying entertainment.
Except in a few isolated patches and Chinatowns, though, American audiences still are in the red. “Rumble in the Bronx” was one of the worst films to try to relaunch Chan this side of the Pacific. Consequently, his superior older works such as “Supercop, ” which were rereleased after “Rumble” got submerged.
Even the able directorial hand of Samo Hung, who traces his acquaintance with his leading man back to their grueling childhood days at the Peking Opera School, can’t disguise the complete lack of script. Filmed in Australia, “Mr. Nice Guy” plays on Chan’s real-life nice-guy persona. As Jackie, a chef from the Julia Child/ Martin Yan school of media, he becomes the target of two gangs in search of a reporter’s videotape, which records a misbegotten drug deal.
Hung wisely throws Chan into a fracas within the first 15 minutes and keeps him dodging multiple attackers and construction material for the rest of the film. Maybe if the story had been filmed in their native Cantonese, Hung and Chan would have thrown in their usual ad-lib banter and at least made the dialogue less grating. Whatever the case, just ignore the forgettable plot. Any aficionado of action sequences, the silent film era or musical choreography should revel in this production. Chan reveals complete mastery over his physical environment, whether dashing down the streets of Melbourne on a two-horse carriage or narrowly averting eunuch status with a table saw.
Video rewinds will be necessary to review and marvel at each breathtaking, complicated maneuver, but moviegoers will want to pay the bargain matinee rates for a chance to appreciate what the human body can do. Chan, who turns 44 in April, has the bruised, battered, acrobatic form of a hyperkinetic 3-year-old. And how many chances do you get to watch a sincerely nice actor risk life, limb and manhood just to entertain a bunch of strangers sitting in a dark room?
Richard Norton, a veteran of Chan and Chuck Norris movies, plays the obsessively neat drug lord Giancarlo. Although Taiwanese recording artist Miki Lee plays the girlfriend, audiences hereabouts may recognize more readily Jackie’s assistant Lakeisha, played by soap opera actress Karen McLymont. Chan’s later movies always includes a triumvirate of females (invariably annoying), and Gabrielle Fitzpatrick who was the villainess in “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” rounds out the requisite feminine triad as a TV reporter.
Keen-eyed fans will recognize ’80s Hong Kong action star Joyce Mini Godenza, who catches open-mouthed an egg dish that Jackie flips with his fork during a cooking demonstration. Godenza is also the wife of Hung, who displays his own stuntwork as a bicyclist crashing into a car. A side note to video hounds next time they’re perusing the Hong Kong section in the store: The portly Hung can do everything Chandoes despite his measurable girth.
Don’t forget to stay for the outtakes of flubs and wincing accidents. Charmingly, the first few show Chan messing up his lines and then exclaiming, “Speaking English makes me so nervous.” The most illustrative clip, though, is when Chan takes a break from the carriage scene: After literally running with the horses, he veers off to the sidewalk where, without a pause, he picks up a napkin and aluminum can from the ground and throws them away. What a nice guy.
This review originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times