Will Skiptrace be remembered as a seminal Jackie Chan, Renny Harlin or even Johnny Knoxville classic? No. This Englishified Chinese import is silly beyond its cultural appropriation, and as unexpected as it is witty (which is not very much). Numerous scenes are driven by Knoxville referencing his “ding dong” while Chan punches thugs in their respective “ding dongs,” so we’re not even talking Walking Tall sensibilities – but with Chan involved, at least we’re getting an honorable approach to poetic action choreography. Sure, Chan might be striking pelvic regions with no remorse, but sequences flow and aren’t drenched in the ugliness of Harlin’s The Legend Of Hercules grossness. For what Skiptrace is, it never re-writes the mold – but maybe it doesn’t have to given the involved talents?
Kidding. Have the mighty (a questionable descriptor in some cases here) really fallen this hard?
Chan stars as Bennie, a Hong Kong police officer hellbent on capturing an underground crime lord known as “The Matador.” Nine years prior, Bennie saw his partner die at the hands of his mysterious adversary, so it became Bennie’s sole mission to take the bastard down. This puts Bennie in contact with a shifty American named Connor Watts (Knoxville), who finds himself being hunted by The Matador after accidentally witnessing an unexpected murder.
Bennie must bring Connor back to Hong Kong in order to save Samantha – his partner’s daughter who he swore to protect – but Connor is no dope. The American understands a visit back to Hong Kong means certain death. So begins Bennie’s babysitting duties, but as he spends more time with Connor, the two realize they have way more in common than they imagined. Maybe neither has to die, if they can out The Matador and crack Bennie’s longstanding case.
So let’s start with the good – Chan’s kung-fu appreciation. If you stick around for the credits, you’ll catch numerous outtakes featuring all the lumps and bruises Chan heroically took during the filming of Skiptrace. He never backs down from a stunt, which makes for some quick-fisted exchanges with both Russian and Chinese thugs. Bennie has a hilarious battle with an ass-kicking Russian vixen who keeps striking the nesting doll that Chan’s character is attempting to use as a weapon (yes, Russian mobsters fighting in a Russian nesting doll factory). Chan’s improvisation of props is still physically witty, as his monkey-like feet kick debris into the air he’ll soon be bashing his assailant with. Chan might be moving a bit slower these days, and breaks in fighting are a bit longer during bigger sequences, but the master still hasn’t lost his way.
Then again, there couldn’t be anything more generic about a film whose Chinese aesthetic deceptively bursts with scenic agricultural shots and vibrant green fields popping with Mongolian color schemes. The whole Russian nesting doll gag is only the tip of the iceberg, as most jokes are immature and unsavory. Nothing but a loose American referencing his junk and woman villains getting caught between poles because of their “double d’s.”
Seriously, Chan asks his outmatched female competition her cup size after squeezing the fighter into a tight predicament – because there’s always time to appreciate a good pair? That’s not even referencing a switch-er-oo pregnancy, twists with no explanation and Connor’s repeated attempts at escape that fail in the same incapable ways every time. Humor ranges from kindergarten to bottom-of-the-barrel, positioned against more intriguing action that takes an unfortunate backseat.
I guess some credit has to be given for casting females in roles of higher-ranking henchmen. Both the Chinese and Russian gangs have leather-clad chick assassins who battle it out during a multi-brawl finale (without Chan’s bra jokes make their way into the fold). Both ladies deathly dance with furious anger, and play into some of the film’s better fight choreography that’s able to introduce agile stretches and glides their male counterparts could never test. Plus – keeping with the positives – Knoxville is somewhat charismatic as the lovable loser/con-man, and Harlin’s visual work does manage to paint an Asian journey that spans camera-perfect locales. Sandy burnt deserts, soggy wet rice fields, open green valleys – Harlin makes use of his exotic backdrops, and we’re treated to wild images that manage to briefly break the feel of just another average actioneer.
Yet, sadly, Skiptrace is just that – another average actioneer. Jackie Chan finds himself in another Rush Hour predicament (the sequels) where his silly partner rattles off dead one-liners and ineptly tries to hold his own. It feel like Chan is trying to blend his American and Chinese audiences with a hybrid, melting-pot watch, but the result is a light-hearted “thriller” that ham-fistedly pulls its punches. Action somewhat impresses, but coincidental plot happenings and a repetitively juvenile sense of humor never amounts to anything more than schoolhouse gangster antics with a few neat rumbles thrown in. “Fun” might be on Renny Harlin’s mind, but “forgettable” is the only f-word I can muster at this point…
For as "fun" as Skiptrace might be, there's never a strive to do anything different or memorable throughout the goofy buddy comedy.