Taking more than a dozen credits, including helmer-scribe, Jackie Chan emerges a Jackie-of-all-trades and master of none in his 101th film, “CZ12.” Toplining the 58-year-old Hong Kong star as a bounty hunter rescuing Chinese national treasures around the globe, the pic reps an uneven ride that is repeatedly stalled by grandstanding anti-colonial screeds. Chan’s stunts may not wow as much as they have before, but longtime fans will still be moved by his self-punishing physical efforts and go-for-broke spirit. Though “CZ12” is bound for a good international run, home biz is hard to predict; the pic opens locally Dec. 20.
The film is a quasi-reboot of a franchise that began with “Armor of God” (1986) and its 1991 sequel, “Operation Condor,” which starred Chan as Asian Hawk, an Indiana Jones-like tomb raider. The protag has been renamed JC in “CZ12,” which shares no other characters and little in the way of plot continuity with its predecessors.
Establishing the film’s excessively moralistic rhetoric at the outset, a prologue (narrated by mainland helmer-thesp Jiang Wen) details the sacking of China’s Summer Palace by Anglo-French forces in 1860, during the Second Opium War. Among the treasures looted were 12 bronze heads modeled on the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Preying on the eagerness of Chinese patriots to redeem their plundered national heritage, antique dealer MP Corp. hires JC (Chan) to locate the missing heads.
JC and his crewmates Simon (Kwon Sang-woo), David (Liao Fan) and Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin) set sail to the South Pacific, where some of the trophies may have sunk in a shipwreck. They are joined by two femmes, NGO leader Coco (Yao Xingtong) and French duchess Katherine (Laura Weissbecker), who prove as troublesome as they are helpful.
As to be expected from most Chan vehicles, the plot takes a backseat to the action and visual spectacle. Even so, the screenplay, credited to Chan and three other scribes (including Stanley Tong, who helmed several of Chan’s films), is patchy and bumpily paced, with a mood that swings wildly from frantic to goofy. The midsection, largely set on a forested island where various factions converge, is especially directionless, with messily designed confrontations and pyrotechnics that are raucous without being fun.
“CZ12” relies heavily on technical gizmos, as in a sequence with JC in a Buggy Rollin wheel suit. Elsewhere, Chan does playful work with parachutes in preparation for a skydiving finale, but despite the daunting logistics involved, the sequence looks less arresting than might be expected.
Ultimately, Chan is most engaging when he’s making mischief with simple props like a tripod or a swivel chair. Although the film’s best hand-to-hand fight doesn’t occur until the last half-hour, when JC grapples with agile rival Vulture (French martial artist Alaa Safi), it helps end Chan’s reportedly last heavy-duty action movie on a high note.
Even for a lightweight genre pic, the characters seem thoroughly hollow, and Chan has more chemistry with a pack of Dobermans than with any of his co-stars. Coco and Katherine make an insufferable duo, engaging in nonstop catfights and screeching like banshees whenever danger’s afoot. Without a single face-to-face scene with love interest Zhang, Korean TV heartthrob Kwon has no chance to show his acting chops in his second foray into Chinese co-productions (after “Shadow of Love”). A more substantial role should have been carved out for mainland taekwondo champion Zhang, who dazzles in full-blooded combat with the equally supple Caitlin Dechelle, who plays Vulture’s g.f.
Shooting in Latvia, France, Taiwan, Australia, Vanuatau and Beijing yields a giddy patchwork of locations, each with its own ambience. The ample budget is not always reflected in the production design and cinematography, but visual effects by predominantly Korean teams are on the money.