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Review: Mild 'Knights' from Chan, Wilson

It's a lot of the same, but chemistry carries it

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Chan, Wilson
Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in "Shanghai Knights."

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(CNN) -- Send in the clowns. Both of them. Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson are together again.

Which should surprise no one. The success of their first venture, "Shanghai Noon," more or less assured a sequel -- and here it is, "Shanghai Knights." Plot, character development and dialogue are all just fluffy filling between action sequences in all of Chan's films. This flick is no exception. As with the original, the time frame is the mid-1880s and the action begins in Imperial China.

Once again Chan plays the straight arrow, overly serious Chon Wang -- also known as John Wayne -- and Wilson plays his sidekick Roy O'Bannon, a man who considers wine, women and song to be the three basic food groups.

Wang's father, the protector of the imperial seal, has been murdered by Lord Rathbone, played by Aidan Gillen, an heir to the British throne. Wang's sister Lin, played by Fann Wong and also trained in the martial arts, sets out to avenge her father's death.

Stereotypical jokes

Shanghai Knights
Chan and Wilson meet up with the Chan character's sister Lin, played by Fann Wong.

Meanwhile, out in the American West, Wang is still the sheriff of Carson City, Nevada. But when he hears the news about his father's murder he sets out for New York, where O'Bannon has relocated and has supposedly invested the reward money the pair won in the first episode. Of course, O'Bannon being O'Bannon, the money is gone, and the two escape New York just ahead of a gang of creditors looking to skin O'Bannon alive.

The two arrive in London penniless, but nevertheless manage to hook up with Lin as they go in search of the evil -- but highly respectable -- Rathbone, who has stolen the imperial seal as part of a plot to overturn the Chinese and British governments.

Now the movie provides every stereotypical British joke about bad food, bad weather and bad teeth you've ever heard. And you've probably heard most of them. The banter between Wilson and Chan is by the numbers and you can see most of the one-liners coming from a mile away.

As in the first film, the writers have had fun by mixing real-life historical figures into the plot. This time around they manage to fit in a very young Charlie Chaplin and author Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, along with a few others -- including Queen Victoria herself.

It is what it is

Shanghai Knights
The movie is full of Chan's action sequences.

The script was written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the duo who also wrote the original. It shows: All the same comedic beats are used, the pacing of the action is the same and the plot is just a device to move things along between the action sequences, where Chan really earns his paycheck. Gough and Millar are also penning the upcoming "Spider-Man 2," so let's hope the creative juices are flowing a bit faster for that one.

The comedic chemistry between the twinkle-eyed Wilson and the twinkle-toed Chan is the real thing. They do make a great team.

But this sequel is just more of the same. That's not necessarily a new thing; in fact, it's a longstanding Hollywood tradition. Bing Cosby and Bob Hope made numerous paint-by-numbers, and greatly beloved, road movies in the 1940s, and the 1930s "The Thin Man" series with William Powell and Myrna Loy is another case in point.

But it would be nice if "Shanghai Knights" was a little brighter. It is just what it is -- a nice mindless diversion of a film that provides a few chuckles, and some pretty fancy footwork by the always invincible Jackie Chan and the constantly optimistic Wilson. You know there will be another one as long as they continue to open big at the box office.

"Shanghai Knights" opens nationwide on Friday, February 7.

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