The search for the next Bruce Lee goes comically awry, but not comically enough, in “Finishing the Game,” a rice-paper-thin spoof that tries to poke fun at the endangered Hollywood species that is the Asian male actor. Breezy reteaming of helmer Justin Lin with several thesps from “Better Luck Tomorrow” is bound to stir interest among audiences who have followed the Taiwanese-American director since his 2002 hit debut, but pic will likely earn bigger bucks and laughs in group viewings on homevid.
After two studio outings (Disney’s “Annapolis” and Universal’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”), pic reps a Sundance homecoming of sorts for Lin after “Better Luck Tomorrow,” his novel if over-appreciated look at Asian-American teenagers in Orange County suburbia. Though it’s lightweight by comparison, “Finishing the Game” takes “Tomorrow’s” subtext — the under-representation of a certain race on the bigscreen — and engages it directly, as fodder for a string of initially amusing but increasingly threadbare gags.
Lee’s untimely death in 1973 left his kung-fu actioner “The Game of Death” famously unfinished, until director Robert Clouse (“Enter the Dragon”) stepped in and shot new footage using a Lee stand-in; the finished film was eventually released in 1978. Lin’s making-of mockumentary posits an alternate backstage story.
Among the actors in line to inherit the yellow tracksuit: Breeze Loo (Roger Fan), a suave copycat who claims to be “completely different” from Lee despite near-identical looks, moves and high-pitched war cry; Cole Kim (Sung Kang), an affable aspiring thesp whose first gig unexpectedly leads him onto a porn set; and Troy Poon (Dustin Nguyen), the onetime star of a TV cop drama, who now makes a living selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.
There’s also Tarrick Tyler (McCaleb Burnett), an impassioned promoter of “the yellow brotherhood,” never mind that he’s white, and Indian-American doctor Raja (Mousa Kraish), who, in an amusing slow-mo shot, is revealed to be Breeze Loo’s stunt double. A brief appearance by M.C. Hammer also gets a laugh.
Pic is essentially a one-joke send-up of bumbling would-be actors trying to jumpstart or salvage their careers. Only Kang (whose strong, silent type was the most authentic element in “Tomorrow”) suggests any hint of an edge beneath his smiley exterior. Lee himself is rarely shown, though his very absence haunts the picture; perhaps the best thing that can be said for “Finishing the Game” is that the martial-arts icon comes across as genuinely irreplaceable.
Tech credits expertly evoke the feel of a ’70s low-budgeter, from Tom Clancey’s cinematography to Brian Tyler’s music and a tasty retro soundtrack.