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Bullet Holes

 

Bulletproof Monk

Paul Hunter, USA, 2003

Rating: 1.6

 

 

Posted: April 27, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Despite such past and future high-profile comic-based films as X-Men, Blade and Hulk, the adjective "comic book," when used to describe a film, still carries a distinctly pejorative connotation. Paul Hunter's Bulletproof Monk, based on an obscure comic miniseries of the same name, does much to further the association of "comic book" as a negative film descriptor: It's woodenly acted, sloppily paced and edited with a jittery inattention to detail, its action sequences (which are, let's face it, the whole point) all too often as jumpy and unfocused as an over-caffeinated ADD sufferer. All of which is perhaps inevitable, given that the script (credited to Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris) is such an aggravating afterthought it would take a few more rewrites to qualify as "shoddy."

Chow Yun-Fat picks up a paycheck as the titular hero, a nameless Tibetan monk charged with protecting an ancient scroll of great power. This Monk With No Name shows up in New York City, determined to find a successor after having spent 60 years keeping the scroll out of the hands of a murderous Nazi named Strucker (Karel Roden). Unfortunately, prophetic signs point to a smarmy pickpocket named Kar (Seann William Scott of American Pie infamy) with a yen for the martial arts but no interest in the Monk's brand of "enlightenment." The usual odd-couple antagonism ensues, and sure enough, the two are soon forced together by the villainous Strucker and his henchmen (and woman). A rickety, but predictable, plot unfolds: The death of his surrogate father-figure, a kindly old crank who runs the rundown movie theater where Kar lives, brings Kar into the fight; the Monk is captured, and Kar races to the rescue along with his requisite love interest, Jade, played by former Kid Rock paramour Jamie (nee James) King.

(A measure of the film's high groan quotient is that we first meet Jade when Kar is brought to the underground lair of a muscle-headed criminal named Mr. Funktastic, who lives with a band of toughs in some large, abandoned subway tunnel, where he runs the local pickpocket trade and somehow throws slammin' parties without alerting the authorities. Another is Jade's unintentionally hilarious revelation that she's the daughter of a notorious Russian mobster, which not only seems ridiculous given everything we're lead to believe and/or guess about her lineage, but seems tacked on solely to explain her access to a huge armored car and an arsenal of ass-kicking weapons.)

Chow Yun-Fat, blessed with both an arresting screen presence and sturdy acting skills, manages to bring an air of avuncular amiability to his role, which subtly tweaks the stereotype of the stern martial arts mentor; his Monk is more a lighthearted trickster than a grim-faced teacher. Otherwise, he seems faintly embarrassed onscreen, often speaking as if through a mouthful of marbles. Scott turns in a workmanlike performance as the reluctant student/sidekick, employing just enough of his patented frat-boy charm to match (or compensate for) Chow's inconsistent onscreen charisma, but not enough to create a memorable character. The two stars never quite achieve the wary chemistry of, say, Fred Ward and Joel Gray in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. But they fare better than the rest of the cast, and director Hunter, all of whom rely on tired B-movie tropes, creating an oddly restrained sense of exaggeration that fails to ground the film in either the realm of campy, winking entertainment or straight-ahead martial arts genre film. This inconsistency of tone, coupled with a weak, cliché-ridden story, makes this film far more forgettable than even the standard popcorn action flick, reinforcing our worst assumptions about comic book adaptations, less bulletproof than it is simply dense and impenetrable.

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