It would appear that after Jackie Chan washed ashore in Australia for “First Strike,” he set up shop in Melbourne as a TV chef. More chopsocky than suey, “Mr. Nice Guy,” his latest effort (scheduled for U.S. release in spring ’98), is chock-a-block with stunts and gags, and definitely ranks as one of his most entertaining outings. Properly promoted and positioned, the film could prove to be his most popular outside Asia and push his international popularity up a notch. In Hong Kong, pic opened early in the year and toted up about $4 million — close to his top-earning “First Strike.”
While retaining a conventional thriller format, effort sports a shrewd emphasis on Chan as physical comic, a talent that separates him from other current action stars. This time around, Jackie is the right guy in the wrong place. TV reporter Diana (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick) is discovered secretly videotaping a crime lord’s illicit activities and, on the run, literally bumps into the unwitting hero. Ever chivalrous and agile, he plucks her from danger and, in an extended chase, outfoxes the pursuers. He also inadvertently winds up with the incriminating tape.
The narrative arc in this mostly English-lingo production isn’t particularly clever or rife with surprise. But neither is it predictable. Director Samo Hung has an unerring sense of how to meld the actor’s personality with the locations and create physical situations that are dynamic, appropriate and smart.
A case in point is the organic energy of a sequence of orchestrated mayhem that’s prompted when Giancarlo (Richard Norton) — the kingpin gangster — sends his thugs to retrieve the tape and silence the witness.
The goons descend on a shopping mall where Jackie and co-host Baggio (Barry Otto) are taping a special, and the result is a ballet of jaw-dropping stunts and heart-stopping action that leaves one gasping for breath between fits of laughter. It is as perfectly realized as a similar setup in “Jingle All the Way” was artistically squandered. And it’s not even the film’s best set piece.
The topper in “Mr. Nice Guy” is a sendup of the classic farce situation of a hall of doors. Here, at a construction site, the opening and closing portals are passageways to some stunningly choreographed action with plenty of comic punch.
Chan, while no stone face, is closer in spirit to Buster Keaton or Gene Kelly than to most fight masters. He’s a goodhearted naif whose winning nature and ingenuity make him a unique screen presence.
Hung, a former classmate of the star, has evolved into one of Hong Kong’s better commercial directors. But he does tend to overdo the use of slo-mo in an otherwise technically pristine production. There’s a sense of fun in the film that extends to a finale recalling the climax of Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” — not exactly a typical action-film reference point.
Like other recent Chan vehicles, “Mr. Nice Guy” could have used more fully realized supporting characters, though a couple of performers, including Otto, provide colorful turns. What Chan ultimately needs is a clever physical comedy script along the lines of “Big” to capitalize on the range of his talents.