Film Review: ‘Hollywood Adventures’

hollywood-adventures
Courtesy of Beijing Enlight Pictures Co.

A messy but slickly executed new China-U.S. collaboration from director Timothy Kendall.

“This is like a film that’s started shooting before the script’s finished,” exclaims one protagonist in “Hollywood Adventures.” He pretty much sums up this scattergun action-comedy helmed by Timothy Kendall, produced by Justin Lin, and made almost entirely with mainland Chinese coin. Following two disaster-courting Chinese tourists and their hardass tour guide on a roller-coaster ride through a series of “this could only happen in a movie” moments in Hollywood, the pic is slickly executed by a mostly American crew, but the action sometimes looks as if it’s been spliced in from outtakes of the “Fast & Furious” franchise. While the result won’t entice overseas viewers, and industry in-jokes may go over the heads of Chinese audiences, the fail-proof casting should help generate respectable if not massive local biz.

Produced by Beijing Enlight Pictures and Seven Stars Entertainment and Media Group, the film reps a further step in Sino-American co-productions, employing a predominantly American crew to tell a Los Angeles-set story from a Chinese perspective. Yet, for all its movie references (including a rather funny “Terminator” sketch) and cameos by TV stars like Kat Dennings and former L.A. Laker Rick Fox, the film misses an opportunity to explore the paradoxical relationship between China’s insatiable appetite for Hollywood 3D blockbusters and its love-hate attitude toward American culture and values. The screenplay (based on a story credited to Lin and TV scribes Brice Beckham and David Ficas) contains English dialogue and scenarios whose nuance and social context may not resonate fully with the Chinese audience, while the Mandarin lines sound flat, lacking slang and regional colloquialisms.

When Xiaoming (Huang Xiaoming) is dumped by his g.f., Yanyan (Sarah Li), who’s left China to pursue her American filmmaking dream, he hastily joins a package tour called “Hollywood Adventures” as the quickest means of going to L.A. to get her back. On the flight, he’s saddled with fellow tour member Dawei (Tong Dawei), a film buff who wears him out with his encyclopedic knowledge. Upon landing, Xiaoming is detained at customs and narrowly escapes unendurable probing thanks to tour guide Weiwei (Vicki Zhao, “Dearest”), who manages to dupe federal officers with a bluff so implausible it couldn’t fool a 3-year-old. This marks the first of a succession of blanket representations of Americans as racist, thuggish, loud-mouthed, pea-brained egomaniacs, while the Chinese leads are indulgently portrayed as innocents with hearts of gold — a choice that’s sure to alienate more objective audiences.

Weiwei checks Xiaoming and his dodgy-looking fellow travelers into the Five Star Hotel Motel, a fleabag owned by the tour’s Korean-American operator Manny Money, aka Lee Bung-ho (“Fast & Furious” series fixture Sung Kang), whose every smarmy grin screams “douchebag.” The next day, they visit Universal Studios and are caught in a gun fight inside a hall of waxworks. It takes some cheek to devise a gag as cornball as the one where Dawei misconstrues the whole rumpus as a film shoot, but when you have giant mascots doing the gunning, it all turns into high camp.

During the crossfire, Xiaoming unwittingly lays hands on a bag of rhino-horn powder — supposedly a precious aphrodisiac — and realizes a dozen beats too slow that he and Dawei have stumbled onto a smuggling ring. From this point on, the two men and Weiwei careen from one madcap escapade to another, the scribes reveling in random genre pastiche, re-creations of classic sets and locations, send-ups of Hollywood stereotypes like the megalomaniac director (Stephen Tobolowsky) who clashes with the narcissistic star (Rhys Coiro), and potshots at everything American, right down to apple pie. The catchphrase “In Hollywood, nothing is impossible” is repeated so many times that it begins to sound like an excuse for the film’s farfetched plotting and inconsistent human behavior.

Nevertheless, even with a loosey-goosey dramatic arc and the sort of car-flipping overkill that will remind viewers of producer Lin’s filmography, the action setpieces are still several cuts above those in mainland blockbusters, even with loftier budgets. Adhering to Hollywood beats, the pacing is racy, the yarn packed with riotous incident.

What deserves props is the savvy casting, which reunites Huang and Tong for the third time since their collaboration in boffo hits “American Dreams in China” and “You Are My Sunshine,” both of which also have U.S.-set segments. Huang, whose performances in recent films such as “You Are My Sunshine” and “The Crossing” have been uniformly wooden, turns his shortcoming into an advantage as the earnest, uptight control freak who nonetheless takes love very seriously. He has a playful rapport with Zhao, who is feisty and charming but doesn’t raise the bar for herself. Tong, who sports an afro to no particular comic effect, is swamped with too much English dialogue, which he can’t handle. Though his image vividly personifies the moviegoing fever that’s made China Hollywood’s most important foreign market, the way he spews famous lines and re-enacts scenes more often annoys than endears.

The neat technical package makes the most of a middling budget by Hollywood standards. Sam Chase’s serviceable lensing is complemented by Jonah Markowitz’s wide-ranging production design, which conjures an unreal ambience that evokes the make-believe nature of the film industry. Music is punchy and rife with ironic humor, such as the use of the Gypsy King’s “Hotel California” in one scene. The Chinese title roughly means “On the Rampage in Hollywood.”

Film Review: 'Hollywood Adventures'

Reviewed at Sanlitun Megabox, Beijing, June 26, 2015. Running time: 129 MIN. (Original title: "Heng chong zhi zhuang Haolaiwu")

Production

(China-U.S.) A Beijing Enlight Pictures Co., Huaxia Film Distribution Co. (in China) release of a Beijing Enlight Pictures Co., Seven Stars Entertainment, Shanghai Movie Star Pictures Co., Beijing Perfect Storm Entertainment, Perfect Storm Entertainment presentation of a Beijing Enlight Pictures Co., Shannan Enlight Pictures Co., Seven Stars Entertainment production in association with China Film Co-Prod. (International sales: Beijing Enlight Pictures Co, Beijing.) Produced by Justin Lin, Vicki Zhao. Executive producers, Li Xiaoping, Salvador Gatdula. Co-producers, Zhang Yamin, Melissa Lee, Philip W. Chung, Alfredo Botello.

Crew

Directed by Timothy Kendall. Screenplay, Brice Beckham, David Ficas, Justin Lin, Philip W. Chung, Alfredo Botello, based on a story by Beckham, Ficas, Lin. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Sam Chase; editor, Thomas J. Nordberg; music supervisor, Melanie Mitchell; production designer, Jonah Markowitz; art director, Denise Hudson, Zorana Zen; set decorator, Meg Everist; costume designer, Christopher Oroza; sound (Dolby Digital), Ben Zarai; supervising sound editor, David Barber; re-recording mixer, Barber; special effects supervisor, Mike Duends; visual effects supervisors, Robert Stadd, Dan Levitan, Jamie Dixon, Akane Y. Mashimo, Gawain Liddiard; visual effects, Psyop, Timothy Kendall, Hammerhead Prods., VFX Collective, Talking Birds Pictures, Mashimo Photography, the Mill, Drive Thru Editorial; line producers, Cyndi Brenner, Ceres Jiang; associate producer, Tian Li; assistant directors, Joe Nishimine, Jimmy Larocca, Tsao Lei; second unit director, Mike Gunther; second unit camera, Pat O'Brien; casting, Chen Zhi.

With

Vicki Zhao, Huang Xiaoming, Tong Dawei, Sung Kang, Rhys Coiro, Stephen Tobolowsky, Sarah Li, Roger Fan, Rick Fox, Kat Dennings, Simon Helberg, James Patrick Stuart, Omar J. Dorsey, Robert Patrick, Missi Pyle, Frank Drank. (Mandarin, English dialogue)

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