A Hong Kong cop, played by Jackie Chan, and a fast-talking American begrudgingly team up on a mission to bring down a large-scale criminal enterprise, all while bickering and trying to get along with each other. That’s the basic plot outline of the new action comedy Skiptrace, and…yes, it does sound a lot like Chan’s major international breakthrough from 1998, Rush Hour, with Johnny Knoxville taking up the Chris Tucker mantle. Alas, within that familiar set-up, director Renny Harlin and screenwriters Jay Longino and BenDavid Grabinski seem mostly content to color the formula with the most clichéd of plot elements: an obsessive quest for revenge, a loose-living American trying to help break the Asian out of his hard-ass shell, a clash between amorality and a code of honor. There’s not much in Skiptrace you haven’t seen before, and Harlin seems to realize this, infusing the film with a generally carefree attitude toward even the most dramatic and/or emotional of situations.
About two-thirds of the way, through, however—as Bennie Chan (Chan) and Connor Watts (Knoxville) are walking through a pasture in China, briefly discussing Bennie’s future plans—Watts says to Bennie, “You know, you’re no spring chicken anymore.” Suddenly, with one line, Skiptrace acquires a faint air of autumnal melancholy. Jackie Chan is now 62, and even though age has clearly slowed him down from the dizzying heights of physicality he brought to his Hong Kong films in the 1980s and ’90s, Skiptrace demonstrates he at least still has that self-effacing quality that made him as likable a screen presence as he was an astonishing performer.
Though the action choreography in the film—masterminded by Wu Gang, a frequent stunt performer for Chan in recent years—doesn’t demand quite as much out of its star as he often demanded of himself in the Police Story films, he throws himself into it all with entertaining abandon. Even a potentially embarrassing non-action scene in which a drunken Bennie suddenly breaks out into a rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” inspiring the rest of a Mongolian tribe to sing along, is at least partially redeemed by the actor’s sheer charm. He doesn’t take himself too seriously.
But perhaps Chan, credited as a producer on Skiptrace, is also, in his own lighthearted way, contemplating his future through this role. Not that he shows any signs of slowing down; one glance at his upcoming filmography on IMDB is bound to disabuse one of that notion. In Skiptrace, however, Bennie tells Connor that he sees himself eventually retiring to the countryside and raising alpacas. With Harlin closing out the film with an overhead aerial image of Chan lying unconscious on the ground in the countryside, accompanied by his customary end-credits reel of stunts gone wrong, that feeling of a performer contemplating his own mortality is inescapable.
Consider Skiptrace, then, Chan’s own Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg’s much-maligned fourth franchise installment might have gotten involved in an adventure similar to the ones he embarked on in his younger days, but peeking through the film’s margins was a tacit recognition on Indy’s part of the passage of time, of a desire to finally settle down with a family unit he once shunned for the sake of indulging in his exploratory side. This older Indy was no spring chicken anymore, either, lending his decision to finally marry Marion Ravenwood a certain poignancy.
Bennie in Skiptrace pines for a similar retirement from a lifetime of police work, and the end of the film finds the character in a similarly calm place. But just as Indy wasn’t quite willing to fully relinquish his iconic status—he’ll keep that famous fedora, thank you very much—Bennie similarly refuses to acknowledge in front of Watts that his partner has, in fact, mastered that two-finger knock-out move Bennie tried to teach him earlier. Jackie Chan may be thinking of settling down, but he’ll be damned if he yields all his star power just yet.
Director: Renny Harlin
Writers: Jay Longino, BenDavid Grabinski
Starring: Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bingbing, Eric Tsang, Eve Torres, Winston Chao
Release Date: September 2, 2016
Kenji Fujishima is a freelance film critic, contributing to Slant Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Playlist and The Village Voice. He is also Deputy Editor of Movie Mezzanine. When he’s not watching movies and writing and editing film criticism, he’s trying to absorb as much music, art, and literature as possible. He has not infrequently been called a “culture vulture” for that reason.