Since I was a teenager, I have been a disciple of the legend that is Jackie Chan. Many of his late 70s and a good amount of his 80s Hong Kong films are classics or close to it. At the very least, they are great fun and are filled with eye-popping stunts. His later career Hollywood efforts have been less than stellar, as I have disliked every single one of them. The “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon” films are absolutely atrocious. Scott Waugh’s “Hidden Strike” is no exception. Netflix’s new action (not so) extravaganza is a preposterous and badly crafted piece of fluff that wastes Jackie Chan’s talent and our time.
With a screenplay by Arash Amel, this forgettable junk tries to recapture the gold of the action films from the 80s and early 90s. Amel fills the script with the most simplistic of characterizations. The biggest sin being the film’s villain, Owen (Pilou Asbæk), who is as cardboard as an action film baddie can be. Performed with tired “evil smiles”, Asbæk is completely dreadful. Every scene where he must be menacing comes off as silly. The way the actor plays it, I would be as scared of him as I would be of Andy Griffith’s Aunt Bea.
To the plot we go. In an unnamed Middle Eastern country, a Chinese oil refinery is under attack by mercenaries. The staff are desperate for a rescue. Along comes Luo (Chan) and his crack team “The Shadow Squad”. Yawn.
In some type of half-assed attempt at an homage to the “Mad Max” films, Chan and his team try to get the people out in a fleet of buses while the antagonists chase them in all terrain vehicles during a massive sandstorm. The name of the path they must travel to reach the safe zone is called the “Highway of Death”. Yawn.
Inserted into the dull plot is Mei (Ma Chunrui), Luo’s adult daughter. Guess what? They are estranged and she is not happy to be rescued by her father. Familial issues will play out during big action moments. Yawn.
Meanwhile, Chris (John Cena) is an American trying to live a quiet life in a village where he plays baseball with local orphans. He needs to fix the village’s water well, so he joins a team of mercs who are going after Chan’s bus convoy. All of this is set up by Chris’ younger brother, Henry (Amadeus Serafini). Big bro discovers little bro is working for bad boy Owen and things get complicated. Chan and Cena are at odds and then learn to put aside their differences and fight together against their common enemy. Yawn.
“Hidden Strike” seems like an idea that was thrown into production without fleshing out character or story. Everything in this film is a colossal bore. Scott Waugh’s direction is uninspired, as he relies on cheap CGI to do the heavy lifting regarding the action. I can’t be sure if he was aware or not, but Waugh had a human special effect as the star of his film. Why not use Jackie Chan to his fullest ability? I realize Chan isn’t as spry as he once was, but the man still has skills. With the exception of one or two hand to hand fights, Chan drowns (as does everyone else) in the computer effects.
To find kind words regarding the film’s visual style is a fool’s errand. With Waugh’s over reliance on some seriously subpar CGI, everything looks phony. Modern PayStation games are miles ahead in terms of getting a realistic look. Again we find another film and director who just cannot grasp the reason for (and proper use of) computer generated effects.
Nathan Furst’s score is almost as embarrassing as the insipid action it plays over. The music sounds like a cheap knockoff of Hans Zimmer’s glory days. There are strings mixed with thundering drums and synthesizers, but nothing comes together, resulting in a score so bland, it cannot even help to enhance the action.
Just when Waugh has set up a semi-serious (with dashes of humor) tone, in a final and desperate Hail Mary attempt to make the film entertaining, the screenplay begins throwing in banter between Chan and Cena that is not clever and far from funny. Turning a film into a full-on comedy at the halfway point is a tonal 360 that is too abrupt. Chan has a natural gift for comedy and John Cena certainly has charm, but Waugh and his film’s script give them nothing to work with.
I want to like every film I see that stars Jackie Chan. Like John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark before him, the big Hollywood studios continuously fail to grasp what makes these filmmakers so special in the first place. While this is a Chinese co-production, the laziness of the American way of shooting modern action infects this picture in every second.
Finished and on release hold since 2019, “Hidden Strike” is another misuse of a huge talent and a film that is dead on arrival from the very first scene. There seems to be a lot of explosions and yelling and gunplay, but no amount of noise can disguise the vapidness of its screenplay and the talentless manner in which it is directed.
Written by Arash Amel
Directed by Scott Waugh
Starring Jackie Chan, John Cena, Pilou Asbæk, Ma Chunrui
TV-14, 102 Minutes, Netflix/XYZ Films/Changchun Film Studios/Epitome