We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
A bellhop’s cart, a life preserver, a wax portrait of Genghis Khan: Jackie Chan, the clown prince of kicking ass, suffers no lack of imagination when arming himself for the spectacularly silly fight sequences in Shanghai Knights, a guilty-pleasure mess of a movie that features Chan’s most inspired stuntwork in years. Indeed, the 48-year-old Chan’s most unlikely weapon here is also the best reminder of his not-quite-faded comedic chops: As he mugs like a modern-day Harold Lloyd, the merry martial-arts legend rolls, throws, and squeezes a crate of lemons at his thuggish foes, and is just as amazed as the baddies by the damage the citrus causes. Sweet, charming moments like this one have been largely absent from such recent Chan vehicles as the Rush Hour flicks and last year’s spy-spoof stinkeroo The Tuxedo. But it’s all good-natured slapstick in Knights, the sequel to—and an energetic improvement on—2000’s Shanghai Noon, in which we first met Chinese imperial guardsman Chon Wang (Chan) and earnest but oafish gunslinger Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson). If the first installment was a buddy-out-of-water picture—Chon traveled from the Far East to the Wild West to rescue a kidnapped Chinese princess, teaming with saloon native O’Bannon on the way—then Knights ups the ante by sending both buddies to a foreign land. Now-sheriff Wang and now-destitute-loser Roy head to London circa 1887 to avenge the death of Wang’s father—teaming up with Wang’s firecracker sis (Fann Wong) on the way. As far as the rest of the movie goes, well, the lackluster sets look like something out of a Kings Dominion stunt show, the malaprops are myriad, and the British-specific jokes (bad teeth, bad food, bad weather) aren’t even good enough for the inevitable Crocodile Dundee in Great Britain. Oh, and there’s also a clumsy wink-wink Charlie Chaplin gag implying that Chan influenced the great comic—instead of the other way around. That said, Chan and Wilson’s chemistry is infectious: You can tell these guys really like each other, and they know they have a good Abbot-and-Costello thing going here. Whether his ever-scheming O’Bannon is coming up with get-rich-quick schemes (“I have one word for you: ‘zeppelin’!”) or having self-esteem issues (“I’m a 30-year-old waiter-gigolo. Where’s the future in that?”), Wilson makes just about everything that comes out of his mouth worth a chuckle, and his dumbfounded facial expressions more than match Chan’s stunt-pulling skills. The high-energy action scenes just keep on coming, including a brawl in Madame Tussaud’s and a finale atop Big Ben, where a tireless Chan shows he’s just as proficient with a sword as he is with produce. And speaking of that yowza scene in the farmer’s market: After the lovely lemon bit, Chan moves on to a rack of umbrellas, which he uses to finish off some Faginesque street toughs—and pay cue-the-music homage to Singin’ in the Rain. What Gene Kelly has to do with Victorian England, you’ll have no idea. But as you watch Chan twirl his bumbershoot this way and that, you’ll grin like an idiot anyway. —Sean Daly