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He might have made his name for racing the Fast and Furious franchise to success, but Justin Lin‘s latest film – his first since FF6 two years ago – is at its weakest when cars rev, flip and crash. Revolving around a hapless Chinese trio’s riotous romp through Los Angeles, the Chinese-U.S. co-production Hollywood Adventures is at its best while it takes pot shots at Californian and Tinseltown mythology – and at its worst when it trades on the very excess it was poking fun in the very first place.
Boasting three of China’s most versatile actors of the day, Lin and his mostly American creative committee and crew – among them first-time feature-film director Timothy Kendall plus four fellow co-screenwriters – should have concentrated on the cast’s abilities to make the most out of the comedic and drama possibilities of this fish-out-of-water narrative set in locations overloaded with intertextual recognition. That’s what the film’s first half looks like: taking cues from or parodying a myriad classics or hits from yesteryear – from The Terminator to Red, and from Pulp Fiction to The Hangover – the film generates physical gags and meta moments galore, all of them carried effectively by Vicki Zhao (Dearest), Huang Xiaoming (The Crossing) and Tong Dawei (American Dreams in China).
With Lin at the helm, however, there’s always a (literal) car crash somewhere down the line. And just as the computer-enhanced pyrotechnics take over and the erstwhile fumbling characters somehow transform themselves into dexterous, motor-friendly superheroes, the small charms of Hollywood Adventures fall away. Then again, with the runaway of success in China of testosterone-dripping blockbusters – and specifically Furious 7, which took a record-breaking $390 million in the country – the gravity and logic-defying action sequences might be the deal-clincher for the ordinary punter.
And there will be lots of them, to be sure, with both star power (fuelled by cameos from Kat Dennings, Robert Patrick and Rick Fox) and horsepower basically securing a potentially record-breaking run along the lines of the odd-couple road movie Lost in Thailand, which is also produced by Hollywood Adventures co-financier Enlight Pictures.
And Lost in Thailand seems to provide Hollywood Adventures with its basic template. Here, the odd couple is Xiaoming (Huang), a once self-assured car salesman now down on his luck in Los Angeles trying to find the girlfriend who ditched him to take a job in a film studio; Dawei (Tong), meanwhile, is the obsessive film fan making a pilgrimage to Hollywood, and someone who would visualize people and happenings around him as if they are a generic trope of a mainstream movie. Having joined a “Hollywood Adventures” tour, they disembark at LAX and meet Wei Wei (Zhao), the pair’s English-speaking Chinese tour guide whose charade is quickly shattered after a gunfight in a museum.
Wei Wei soon reveals herself as an unwilling accomplice of Manny (Sung Kang), a dreadlocked, gold-toothed Korean-American using a motel and the tours as the cover of a long-running smuggling operation. Somehow with a very valuable part of the booty left in their possession, this heathen trio soon hits the road – a journey which will see them navigating a universe of stupid rednecks, shallow showbiz movers and neurotic studio Svengalis. Up until this point, Hollywood Adventures still holds up with a mix of cliched scenarios and hilarious coups de grâce. Who would have thought of a Chinese character (played by a Chinese actress) evoking the debate of racial diversity in Hollywood? Or, on the other end of the seriousness spectrum, Robert Patrick lampooning his own T-1000 persona by line dancing alongside a Schwarzenegger look-alike?
As the journey continues, romance begins to flicker between Xiaoming and Wei Wei, Dawei peels off his bumpkin-like veneer to reveal an inner self, and their American Dreams begin to unravel. As the winking gags give way, the screenplay begins to unravel too: credit is certainly due to Zhao, Huang and Tong for mustering as much chemistry for characters which certainly look thin on paper. Then again, as the trio somehow become accomplished sharpshooter, street-fighter and stuntman in the final showdown – skills they “learnt from the movies” – the goodwill generated in the film’s first half drains away, the accumulated empathy of its human characters lying in tatters.
Production companies: Perfect Storm Entertainment, in a Beijing Enlight Pictures, Sun Seven Star Entertainment, Shanghai Movie Star Pictures, Perfect Storm Entertainment presentation
Cast: Vicki Zhao, Huang Xiaoming, Tong Dawei, Rick Fox, Robert Patrick
Director: Timothy Kendall
Screenwriters: Brice Beckham, David Fickas, Justin Lin, Philip W. Chung, Alfredo Botello
Producers: Justin Lin, Vicki Zhao, Anne Clements, Troy Craig Poon, John Pierson
Executive producers: Bruno Wu, Wang Changtian, Li Xiaoping
Director of photography: Sam Chase
Production designer: Jonah Markowitz
Costume designer: Christopher Oroza
Editor: Thomas Nordberg
Casting Director: Rick Delia
Music: Nathan Barr
International Sales: IM Global
In Mandarin and English
No rating; 119 minutes
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