Brandon Lee, American-born son of the legendary chopsocky hero Bruce Lee, acquits himself well in his first lead role in a U.S. film, “Rapid Fire,” as a pacifist college student forced to become a killing machine. Director Dwight H. Little expertly handles implausible but entertaining action sequences that keep the pic lively despite a schlocky plot and cardboard characterizations. The Fox release is a serviceable late-summer market entry.
Flashback memories of the Lee character’s late father (not Bruce) being crushed by a tank at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square explain his underlying aversion to violence and political activity in Alan McElroy’s script. Using such an event as backstory is exploitive, but the character’s obsession with his father’s heroic memory does provide Lee with a shred of a character.
The lad’s heritage naturally includes thorough martial arts training and a lithely muscular physique, both of which he needs after witnessing a gangland rubout. Thankfully devoid of standard hunk narcissism, young Lee manages to maintain audience sympathy despite having to surrender his ideals and annihilate hordes of stock bad guys on behalf of Chicago cop Powers Boothe.
Boothe, enjoyable as a lower-budget Clint Eastwood type, has moral ambiguities of his own–as the audience realizes because he never shaves and coldly uses Lee as bait in his vendetta against heroin dealers Tzi Ma and Nick Mancuso.
Boothe’s macho female partner (is there any other kind these days?) Kate Hodge talks about the idealism of the war on drugs, but it rings as hollow as most political rhetoric on that subject.
Little keeps the pic moving for an hour until the script does away with the slimiest bad guy, Mancuso, and the tension slackens.