Friday, April 18, 2008

"The Forbidden Kingdom" -- * 1/2

The martial arts fantasy flick "The Forbidden Kingdom" is a PG-13 movie made for 7-to-8-year-olds. Though it might appeal to some diehards of stars Jet Li and Jackie Chan, it made for a pretty arduous sit for me. While I don't consider myself a fan of the genre, I like to think I have a capacity for enjoying its finer fruits as of late, such as Li's "Hero" and "Fearless," and Chan's... um... "Rumble in the Bronx," I guess? The only real draw here is the promise of watching legends Li and Chan fight each other, if you're into that sort of thing. I'm not, but I have difficulty imagining even the stars' aficionados getting excited by the martial arts sequences on display here. Though marketed as a clash of the titans, the movie features minimal fighting scenes between the two actors; adding to which, Li and Chan are so obviously past their prime and are being totally assisted by wires, that you might as well be watching CGI creatures duke it out. This saps all the potential fun out of the proceedings, and the fact that the two characters end up being allies for most of the movie seems like a bit of a cheat.

To be fair, my eyes have a tendency to glaze over during extended scenes of repetitive punching and kicking, and that happened quite a bit here. At least a half dozen times throughout the movie, I found myself staring vacantly at the screen and only snapped out of it when my friend tapped my shoulder. When I wasn't dulled by the martial arts tedium, I would tune in to watch either Chan, Li or leading man/boy Michael Angarano be wildly mugging. Some will enjoy Chan's incessant funny-face-making and cheesy one-liners, but I never really have and didn't here either. For much of the movie, Li smartly sticks to his stoic, barely-talking self, but when he shifts into his second role, the "Monkey King" (don't ask me, I didn't understand), he hams it up bigger than anyone in the cast. Angarano is as bland as it's capable of being, while looking younger, less-defined and less invested than he was in "Snow Angels."

I'm honestly baffled that some fanboys/critics have given this thing a pass, as I was bored nearly all the way through. In terms of plot, I believe it involved some nonsense about a magical golden staff, freeing the Monkey King, fighting the Jade Army, bladdy-bladdy-blah, I don't care. Though "Forbidden Kingdom" is filled with wacky, broad slapstick for the little kids (at one point, Jet Li pisses on Jackie Chan's face), I found the most effective humor in it to be of the unintentional variety. I had trouble stifling my laughter in the opening seconds of silliness, and looked eagerly around my audience for fellow mockers when the bad guys wearing turquoise eye shadow showed up, and a character sincerely uttered "Behold the tyranny of the warlord." 8-year-old boys and hardcore fans of either actor will probably mildly enjoy themselves here, but there's no reason why anyone outside of those groups should go near this. I had little interest (though some hope) going in, but once the movie had its hooks in me, I gave even less of a shit than I thought I would.


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