- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

If at first you modestly succeed, try to modestly succeed again. That, in a nutshell, is Hollywood's philosophy of buddy-movie sequels. Before we're treated to a second "Bad Boys" vehicle and the prequel to "Dumb and Dumber," both due out this summer, the indestructible Jackie Chan and his "Shanghai Noon" confrere, Owen Wilson, offer us a pick-me-up.
"Shanghai Knights," the sequel to 2000's "Shanghai Noon," which grossed nearly $100 million worldwide, finds our intrepid East-meets-Wild-West pair, Chon Wang (Mr. Chan) and Roy O'Bannon (Mr. Wilson), in Victorian London, amid regicidal nobles and furious Chinese rebels.
Their mission: to recover a precious jewel stolen from China's royal family by an aristocratically coiffed English lord (Aidan Gillen) named Rathbone, who's bent on killing his way to the British crown.
A new director, David Dobkin, is at the helm, but "Knights" brings back screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.
We meet a young Charlie Chaplin (Aaron Johnson), a penurious orphan and clever pickpocket, and a pre-"Sherlock Holmes" Arthur Conan Doyle (Thomas Fisher), a tightly wound, tweedy Scotland Yard detective.
In addition to the soon-to-be-famous, there's the soon-to-be-commonplace. The automobile, a dicey German invention in the 1880s, is dismissed by Roy as an unpromising venture. Another 1880s invention, Richard Gatling's revolving machine gun, gets an inaugural workout.
These little scraps of lore are worth a knowing chuckle or two, but they get old quickly.
One subplot, involving Rathbone's collaboration with Chinese Boxer rebels virulently anti-Western and anti-imperial, in reality is especially ludicrous.
The Chan-Wilson shtick gets tedious, too. As dazzling and enjoyably playful as the fight sequences are, the pair's one-liner yakking is as stiff as Mr. Chan's karate chopping is nimble.
Mr. Wilson, the understated scene stealer in "Meet the Parents" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," finds little ballast in the dead weight of Mr. Chan's laboriously broken English.
Conversely, the listless, stoned-seeming Mr. Wilson is of little use in Mr. Chan's fight scenes, which make up at least half the movie.
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, this duo is not.
The straight-laced Chon Wang, now the sheriff of Carson City, Nev., reunites with Roy, his libertine goofball buddy, at the Ritz Hotel in New York City. Roy, an aspiring pulp fabulist, has squandered all the money the pair came into in "Noon."
Chon actually, his given name would be Wang, but Roy calls him Chon throughout the movie … Agh, who cares? The point, as you'll remember from "Noon," is to pronounce the name as "John Wayne."
At any rate, Chon Wang needs the cash so he can ship off to England's capital city, where his sister, Chon Lin (Fann Wong, a Singaporean actress who gives Mr. Chan an acrobatic run for his money), has followed the nefarious Rathbone.
The two cross the pond as stowaways, whereupon the London merriment ensues.
The movie then takes us on a touristy tram ride through the foggy British capital e.g., to Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussaud's wax museum and the Big Ben clock tower, inside of which Chon Wang meets Rathbone for a final thrust-and-parry showdown.
Would that "Knights" delivered as many laughs as it does punches, kicks, leaps and somersaults.
A third "Shanghai" is said to be in the works.
I can wait.

*1/2
TITLE: "Shanghai Knights"
RATING:
PG-13 (Action violence, fleeting profanity, sexual innuendo)
CREDITS:
Directed by David Dobkin. Produced by Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Jonathan Glickman. Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. Original music by Randy Edelman.
RUNNING TIME:
107 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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