by Ed Owens
man, leave him alone...he doesn't know anything."
That single line, coupled with a particularly funny cameo
by Fabio, has cost me dearly. Both come from a sleeper stoner hit from
last year (which will remain nameless so that I may preserve what little
credibility I have). The problem arose when I suggested that movie (whose
name will be never again pass my lips in such a manner) to a friend.
Needless to say, the friend was not amused, and it's only been the miracle
of therapy that has allowed us to continue our relationship.
lesson learned (for me, as hers would seem to be painfully obvious)
is that certain movies demand to be seen with certain people...and only
those people. One such person is my friend Drew, who laughed right along
with me the first time we saw the now infamous Fabio scene. He and I
tend to see the stuff nobody else in our circle wants to see: the stuff
that we as true and faithful movie whores must see in order to
maintain our official status; the stuff that we can see amidst the relative
anonymity of the multiplex as opposed to the computer archived rentals
of the video store; the stuff that we can see practically for free because
we know the manager. In short, the stuff we saw this past weekend.
One could list myriad ways that films distinguish themselves from TV.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), such
distinctions are rapidly becoming influences. The widescreen format
has now become so pervasive that it shows up in commercials and music
videos, and television broadcasts in surround sound are now the majority
(though Golden Girls is still shown in mono for the purists in the audience).
The latest crossover trend goes the other way, with theaters beginning
to air commercials prior to the regular trailers. As Drew and I settled
in for Kiss of the Dragon, we were, instead, treated to the super
extended dance remix of Britney Spears' Pepsi commercial with extra
footage. Britney was followed by a rather bizarre M&Ms commercial, which,
in turn, was followed by an extremely puzzling Jeep Cherokee commercial.
The next commercial prompted us to join the Armed Forces - probably
to pay for the Pepsi and M&Ms we'd be munching in the Jeep Cherokee
we were sure to purchase upon leaving the theater. If you throw in the
Anthony Hopkins bit and the "reminder roller coaster," the total running
time for this taste of home was almost six minutes. Guess what the average
network commercial break runs?
If I have a genre-specific weakness, it's for action movies. Despite
my schooling in the classics and appreciation for foreign film, I am
at heart an action-movie junkie. The trailers are all the same: a brief
little voice-over intro, followed by guns, fists, breaking glass, and
titles that explode from the screen bone-rumbling Dolby Digital whoosh.
That's all it takes for me, really, and it's led me to see more bad
movies than Joe Bob Briggs. Kiss of the Dragon had such a trailer,
and while it falls far short of being late-night cable fodder, it fails
in a number of ways to achieve any sort of action greatness.
film opens with a fabulous fifteen minute set piece in which Jet Li
lands in Paris, witnesses a murder, gets framed and fights his way through
damn near every room (as well as several outer balconies) of a posh
French hotel. The body count and Li both soar through the sequence,
with enough hardware being flashed to fill several straight-to-video
Then the plot kicks in.
Is one of China's best cops (aren't they all?), sent to Paris to assist
in a high-profile drug bust involving Chinese dignitaries. When the
bust goes south (leading to the film's stunning opener), Li gets framed
and must clear his good name (he's given the nickname Johnny by a corrupt
French police inspector - played by Tcheky Karyo - who can't pronounce
his real name) with the help of Bridget Fonda's hooker with a heart
of gold. I would tell you more, but there isn't any, the narrative arc
ending pretty much where it started.
problem with Kiss of the Dragon is twofold. The first problem
is that the "plot," as cliched as it is in its conception, is simply
laughable in its execution. Li may be poetry in motion, but he's particularly
dull when still (and he is still far too often in this film). Neither
he nor Fonda can carry the narrative, which leaves it entirely up to
Karyo, who proves himself less than worthy of the responsibility. The
characters are about as uninteresting as they can be, and their motivations
- admittedly not something that is very high on the list of an action
movie's priorities - are particularly befuddling, and in some cases,
even noticeably absent.
second problem is the more damning. Aside from the hotel shoot-em-up
that opens the film, and the Li vs. the twins hand-to-hand spectacular
near the end, the action scenes are surprisingly tame. Li moves in ways
that I've only dreamed about, and people die in various and sundry ways,
but the wow factor is MIA, with some of the action sequences being so
short and pointless that I found myself wondering why the filmmakers
had even bothered.
Li is definitely capable of better, and hopefully he'll
find something better soon. The movie's not a complete loss, but the
film's 108 minute running time feels padded, a cardinal sin for any
mother of a possessed little girl is talking to the recently arrived
priest who is going to perform an exorcism:
Mother: "The girl won't even let me touch her."
Priest: "Sometimes you have to give them candy."
If the line didn't make you laugh, then nothing else in
Scary Movie 2 will either, as that's about the highest point
this lowest of lowbrow comedies ever achieves. If the line did make
you laugh, then think of it as having gotten the best the movie has
to offer for free. The line comes about five minutes into the film,
and that's as good as it gets for its entire length.
original Scary Movie, as gross and crude as it may have been,
was also shockingly funny, the kind of thing where you find yourself
laughing in spite of yourself. It was edgy and over-the-top, with enough
random cinematic references to keep even the most knowledgeable film
geek happy. Critics decried it as the bottom of the barrel, a one-hit
wonder that in out-grossing the Farrellys left itself with nowhere to
go. The sequel isn't trying to break new ground, being content to retrace
the steps of its predecessor, and that's actually part of its problem.
gags are about as current as they can be, featuring parodies of Hannibal
and The Weakest Link, but they never go anywhere, as if the Wayans
bros thought the references to be funny in themselves. Several gags
from the original show up, almost completely unchanged, and the other
gags are repeated so often that they eventually annoy more than amuse.
The result is a film where the filmmakers seemed to have had more fun
making it than I did watching it.
isn't to say the film doesn't have moments of inspiration. James Woods
is perfectly cast as the priest in the Exorcist parody that opens
the film (rumor is that Brando was the filmmakers' first choice, one
that I'm glad fell through), with Andy Richter playing off Woods beautifully
as the exorcist's assistant. There is also an M:I2 bit, which
is partially clever and partially painfully obvious, and a Poltergeist
riff that is more clever in the way it gets around potential ratings
problems than in anything inherent in the gag itself. The rest of the
film is a random mess of film references and flat jokes that never amount
Perhaps the first one pushed too far, leaving the second
one nowhere to go. Or perhaps the sequel was too rushed, hastening to
capitalize on the earlier film's surprise success. Either way, the film
simply doesn't work. Fans of the first one are sure to be disappointed,
while critics will simply say, "I told you so."
©2001 Ed Owens