Shanghai Knights (review)

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Fortune Cookie

I could easily have elevated Owen Wilson to the status of Current Boyfriend on my Bias Meter this week. He’s cute, funny, smart, and doesn’t take himself too seriously — all excellent qualities in a fantasy boyfriend (and in real ones, too). On the other hand, Jackie Chan had a good shot at the position, too — cute, funny, and so on and so forth. And they’re both back this week in Shanghai Knights, the sequel to one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s sorta sad that Shanghai Noon is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen — it’s not like I haven’t seen funny movies like Monty Python’s stuff and Airplane! and Glitter. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for Jackie, I’m a sucker for Owen, and I’m really, really a sucker for cute, funny, talented guys who take self-deprecation to new heights (or would that be new lows?). The Bias Meter is supposed to alert you to these sorts of propensities and strange proclivities, for which I do not apologize.

Then again, I’ve been known to trash crap unworthy of Jackie and Owen — The Tuxedo, Rush Hour 2, I Spy — so perhaps I’m not too blinded by boyfriend lust to think clearly. Or as clearly as one can think when one is grinning madly for two hours.

Is Knights silly? God yes, but charmingly so, as it picks up with our unlikely heroes a few years after Noon and the guys are just as they were before, only more so. Chon Wang (Chan) is a straighter arrow than ever, sheriff of Carson City, feared by criminals and respected by horses. Roy O’Bannon (Wilson) is a bigger scoundrel than ever, though the ladies still love his devilish smile and disarming cuddliness. There’s some goofy business with a demented English lord and a stolen ancient Chinese artifact thingie, which sends Wang and Roy on a trip to London to try to recover the thing. Rathbone, the lord who stole the Chinese thing in a plot to do something evil, is played by Aidan Gillen, who is badass with a sword and has apparently discovered hair gel in the 19th century but is also really cute in that silly- movie- bad- guy way, with the great wardrobe and the snooty accent, and has the possible potential to ascend to the ranks of Current Boyfriend one day.

Fann Wong is also here as Wang’s little sister, and her almost total absence from this review tells you where my priorities lie.

The screenwriting team of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Showtime, Lethal Weapon 4), returning from Noon, try too hard to replicate the anachronistic magic of the first film, throwing about 30 years worth of stuff into a blender and letting jokey references to this fantasy pseudo Victorian/Edwardian era carry too much of the humor. Yeah, it’s sorta weird and sorta funny that automobiles and motion pictures — ! — sit alongside Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes in 1887 London but it becomes a crutch when the better anachronisms are Roy’s modern sensibilities and Wang’s kung-fu dancing.

There’s plenty of that still — watching Chan do his thing with a bunch of umbrellas and invoke Gene Kelly while he takes out a band of ruffians is pretty darn enchanting — so never mind the rest. It’s all offered up in such good humor that you can forgive it anyway. And keey-ute! Did I mentioned all the cute guys in this?

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