Thursday, 11 February 2016

FROM VEGAS TO MACAU III

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND WHUUUU....?

Your response to this third instalment of the From Vegas To Macau series (previous entries are also referred to as The Man From Macau films, but apparently not this one) will most likely depend on a number of factors. Far from the least of these is some regard for Hong Kong action movies and comedies from the late 80s and early 90s, specifically films of the God Of Gamblers ilk, with all their overblown sentimentality, wild overacting, idiotic slapstick and occasional forays into what we decadent and unsophisticated Westerners might regard as the politically incorrect. Which, as it happens, I do. Secondly, an appreciation of the mighty Chow Yun-Fat: once regarded as The Coolest Man In The World at the time on the back of bullet-heavy Heroic Bloodshed epics like A Better Tomorrow II, Hard Boiled and the genuinely awesome The Killer (all by John Woo), and still at it aged sixty and not looking it (either he's had some fantastic work done or he truly is one of The Immortals amongst us). Not being unduly bothered by a level of CGI that the makers of Sharknado would consider shoddy is probably an advantage as well.

Most importantly, you need at least some idea of the first two movies, which might be difficult given that neither of them have had any official distribution in the UK. However, even if you've watched them in the last week (they are out there on, ahem, "a website") you're going to struggle because the narrative veers wildly between "wayward" and "not giving a toss what you think". From Vegas To Macau III is as loosely plotted a film as you'll ever see, to the extent that even attempting a synopsis is on a par with clearing out the Augean Stables, but briefly it concerns a mad scientist (Jacky Cheung) who has kept alive villainess Molly (Carina Lau) from the second film after she dived from the back of an aeroplane with no parachute. Molly was the old flame of legendary gambler Ken (Chow Yun-Fat) who starts this film in tears at the marriage of his daughter to his protege; the only cure is for him to be hypnotised (by someone doing a Brando/Corleone impression for no good reason) into thinking it's his fat cousin instead. Then an exploding robot duplicate of Andy Lau turns up and Chow ends up in prison for stealing $15 million. They escape, there's a romance between a couple of domestic robots, and they all head off to a casino island with Ken pretending to be Ko Chun (Chow's character from God Of Gamblers).

There are musical numbers, a card game with Psy, a brief dream sequence where a blacked-up Chow is eaten by a dinosaur (!?), a long sequence where he thinks he's the hero of an old kung fu movie, some table tennis, giant flying robots, someone dressed up as Spiderman (again for no good reason) to play a dice game, a custard pie fight and a martial arts sequence where Andy Lau takes on ten robot Andy Laus in the villain's basement. It is all spectacularly stupid and makes no coherent sense whatsoever, leaping from knuckleheaded knockabout to computer-generated action sequences to Chow Yun-Fat mugging furiously to Chow Yun-Fat looking cool in a tux. But there are no moments which suggest actual jeopardy for actual characters (as there were in both previous films); it's winking at the audience so aggressively throughout that you can't take a second of it seriously and it's clear that none of the cast and crew were either. When the traditional blooper reel over the end credits is no different in tone to the actual movie, something's gone awry.

Hong Kong cinema has always been its own beast and has never abided by Hollywood multiplex rules: that's why we like it. But From Vegas To Macau III is so random and uncoordinated, even by the standards of the first two films, that it never hangs together and collapses into a string of odd sequences that aren't nearly as awesome as they should be. Essentially it's got no more substance than a Carry On film; that doesn't mean it's not occasionally amusing, but this isn't even one of the good ones. The end credits suggest a 3D post-conversion, but thankfully the UK cinema release is in Normalvision.

**

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

BEVERLY HILLS NINJA

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND MILD DESPAIR

Sometimes you see a film and can't stop wondering what the script meetings were like. Maybe you can envisage the writer toiling endlessly at Microsoft Word, agonising over every comma, while surrounded by piles of research notes and dramatic flowcharts. Or you can imagine them roaring with hysterical laughter at every zinger they've crafted for Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen to kill stone dead. Maybe you can even hear their carefully tailored Spotify playlist, especially crafted to inspire their creativity even further.

I can't help feeling that in the case of Beverly Hills Ninja the meeting took less time than you'd need to soft boil an egg. "Here's the pitch: he's a fat, incompetent ninja and he falls over a lot," most likely with assorted cover versions of Kung Fu Fighting burbling away in the background. That's all there is to it: the late Chris Farley plays an imbecile ninja who, absurdly, cracks an international counterfeiting racket and, even more absurdly, cops off with the hot blonde at the end.

It's rubbish, obviously: a witless Ow My Balls parade of falling over, stupidity, silly voices, walking into walls, falling over, breaking things, setting things on fire, falling over, fighting and falling over for those who find Mr Bean too intellectually daunting. Sure, some of the falling over is funny (a couple of times, anyway), but aside from bonehead slapstick the film doesn't have much in its comedic armoury. No-one goes into a film called Beverly Hills Ninja expecting a Noel Coward script of glittering witticisms, but surely there should be room for something a little more sophisticated than an overweight bloke repeatedly hurting himself and behaving like an idiot while Kung Fu Fighting plays on the soundtrack. According to the IMDb, Chris Farley wept at the first screening.

**

BEWITCHED

DIDDLE-IDDLE-DEE! CONTAINS SPOILERS

Mediocre high-concept nonsense wherein nostril-wiggling witch Nicole Kidman decides to try and live like a real non-magical human by moving to Los Angeles and taking the lead role in a reboot of TV sitcom Bewitched (wherein a witch decides to try and live like a real non-magical human). The resultant mess of self-referential in-jokery and the collision of fantasy, fake reality, meta-reality and "real" reality (in which one of the other characters on the show is also played by a witch, and another previously unseen character turns up in the "real" world) would cause the Tardis to crash into the middle of the Sun in confused bafflement, and it has to be said that Bewitched's makers do not pull it off.

Already multi-layered matters are complicated further when she gets involved with her co-star, a thundering halfwit played by Will Ferrell who wants all the glory of the new show for himself; the trouble is that viewers only like the show for her and not for him. Meanwhile Michael Caine is probably the best thing on show, materialising every so often as Kidman's witchy dad to lech around young women, and Shirley MacLaine is another witchy actress playing a TV witch.

It's not any good at all, and Will Ferrell in particular is as thoroughly charmless as he ever is, but the film is occasionally amusing enough to more or less just about scrape under the wire. The TV studio background is interesting, though the sitcom they're all making looks terrible and the Kidman-Ferrell romance simply doesn't work. But at the very least it's never terrible enough to be actively annoying. Instead it's just something inconsequential, burbling merrily away to itself but never capturing your complete attention. Hardly worth the effort.

**