- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

An undeniably punchy title, "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" may prove a self-administered knockout blow for Steve Oedekerk, who misjudges the cleverness and stamina of his own one-man show.
Failing himself as writer, director and leading man, Mr. Oedekerk barely sustains a feature-length running time while struggling to revive the sort of inside joke that Woody Allen finessed memorably in "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" in 1966.
Borrowing an obscure Japanese crime thriller of 1964 titled "Key of Keys," Mr. Allen recut the evidently delirious footage and added an English-language soundtrack of his own invention, producing a disembodied effect that was often hilarious.
Mr. Oedekerk, a former gag writer for Jim Carrey (he helped launch the Ace Ventura character and directed the sequel "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls"), attempts a similar screwball enhancement with a Hong Kong martial-arts saga of the middle 1970s known as both "Savage Killers" and "Tiger and Crane Fists."
Unlike Mr. Allen, who was content to fiddle with the soundtrack of the prototype, Mr. Oedekerk uses optical tricks to composite himself into certain episodes of the original.
He also stages additional episodes meant to supplant vintage material or provide gratuitous amusement. The most elaborate is a martial-arts duel with a belligerent computer-graphics cow. Definitely a selling point in the trailer, this interlude fizzles in its entirety, literally so when it suits Mr. Oedekerk's fancy to leave the cow in a dehydrated condition.
The cow encounter is amusing only as long as the cow is permitted to pummel the hero, Mr. Oedekerk as an orphaned kung-fu prodigy called the Chosen One. Cows have been subjected to so much slapstick abuse in recent movie farces that turning the tables is overdue. Now that "Kung Pow" has bungled the reversal, the whole idea of cow slapstick can be put out to pasture for a generation or so.
Even "Tiger Lily" was a short-winded caprice. It ran only 80 minutes, a duration padded by interludes that showcased the Lovin' Spoonful in premature music videos or Mr. Allen as an intrusive narrator. "Kung Pow" may run 10 minutes shorter, and its slim hold on feature length includes a prolonged end-titles sequence in which Mr. Oedekerk turns to outtakes and behind-the-scenes glimpses.
Only a handful of moviegoers may be able to testify to their existence. Almost every sequence of the movie itself could be mistaken for an outtake because the level of execution is consistently shoddy.
The illustration of optical tricks is more interesting, but it might have been more effective to introduce the trickery during a prologue.
Mr. Oedekerk doesn't inspire much confidence as a comedy performer. It's easy to see how he might audition zany bits that would look funnier if Jim Carrey actually did them for the camera.
Perhaps it would have helped to take the audience into his confidence before the hoax commenced by alluding fondly to the source movie and then demonstrating some of the playful methodology in advance. The movie certainly needs more ways of being disarming than it possesses.
As a rule, the most effective devices echo Mr. Allen's soundtrack gags. For example, a character will be seen pointing, and the dubbing will announce, portentously, "I point my finger."
Mr. Oedekerk miscalculates a running soundtrack gag about the synchronization lapses that used to typify Hong Kong movies dubbed into English. The mistake is to stretch the time lag between sound and lip movements so far that there's no delayed-action payoff. You need to see a comparable lip movement within a second or two for the joke to be effective.
One animated brainstorm works fairly well: the invocation of a platitudinous celestial ancestor named Mu Shu Fasa, who takes the form of a lion and parodies James Earl Jones as the patriarch of "The Lion King." His sonorous voice is a witty synthesis of Mr. Jones and Leonard Nimoy, a juxtaposition that makes considerable sense. If you're overdoing the authoritative note, you can't go wrong with those choices.
Unfortunately, you can go wrong by surrendering a first-run admission price to "Kung Pow," which teems with maladroit choices. Steve Oedekerk has plenty of incentive to take early retirement as a comedy headliner while making amends as a comedy writer-director.

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