I had to sit in the very front row when I went to see Shanghai Knights; not the best vantage point from which to watch a film that features little more than a series of dizzying stunts and high-speed acrobatics. Before the 90 minutes were up, I’d developed a throbbing headache. Strangely, it wasn’t my proximity to the screen that caused it.
Actually, it was the movie itself that set my temples to pounding. An uninspired sequel to 2000’s surprise hit Shanghai Noon, this time set in Merry Olde England instead of the Wild, Wild West, it features enough hackneyed gags to make even a ten-year-old kid groan. Ever hear the one about the unpleasant weather in England? Or how the English have bad teeth? Or how crazy it is that they drive on the wrong side of the road? Well, get ready to hear ‘em again.
Aidan Gillen – best known for his portrayal of Stuart, the arrogant, uber-gay alpha male of the original British version of Queer as Folk – plays the dastardly villain in Shanghai Knights. As Lord Rathbone (tenth in line to the throne and determined to eliminate the other nine), Gillen engages in some serious swordplay and ferocious hand-to-hand combat, proving quite effectively that playing gay needn’t necessarily pigeonhole an actor (unless, maybe, you’re Sean Hayes).
Gillen’s devilish antics fail to enliven the tedious shenanigans of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson, each of whom plays the exact same character he plays in every movie, only with less enthusiasm. For Chan, this means the unintentional action hero with the slapstick charm; for Wilson, it’s the grating, stoner-surfer doofus with the nasally whine. The essence of a buddy-pic is the chemistry between its stars; too bad there’s so little to be found here.
Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, however, exhibit quite a bit of chemistry in How to Lose a Guy In Ten Days. I had a much better seat for this one, but that’s not why I liked it so much.
The story is silly, but justifiably so. In order to research an article on how women sabotage their own relationships, intrepid reporter Andie (Hudson) seduces Benjamin (McConaughey) then uses a series of intentionally off-putting tactics (loading his bed with stuffed animals, crying in public, nicknaming his manhood “Princess Sophia”) in an attempt to make him dump her within ten days. Trouble is, Benjamin’s on an undercover mission of his own to prove to his colleagues he can make a woman fall in love with him in exactly the same amount of time.
What might have been a really lame chick flick is instead a date-movie tour de force, thanks to engaging performances by both Hudson and McConaughey, who really do sizzle together onscreen. Recalling the comedic talents (not to mention the physical aura) of her mom, Goldie Hawn, Hudson displays a captivating charm even as her character does some truly unforgivable things (“Princess Sophia!!”) in the name of journalism. And McConaughey (who, with a head full of wavy, newly lush hair, has never looked better) embodies everything irresistibly sexy about the kind of slow-talking, mild-mannered, good old boy you’d gladly take home to mama. It takes a bit of contrived maneuvering to reach the inevitable fairy-tale ending, but with Hudson and McConaughey at the center of all the chaos, it all goes down nice and easy.
(Appeared in Empire)