Archive for November 10, 2021

Forget it, Jack, it’s Chinatown

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2021 by dcairns

Kurt Russell IS Jack Burton AS John Wayne in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Long before Johnny Depp hit on the idea if being a leading man character actor and incorporating elements of impersonation — Roddy McDowall & Angela Lansbury for SLEEPY HOLLOW, Mick & Keith & Bowie for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN — Kurt Russell, having played Elvis for John Carpenter, decided to do Clint in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and the Duke in BIG TROUBLE.

Unpopular opinion: this is one of those odd films you’re grateful for the existence of, without it being terribly great. I think THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, directed by W.D. Richter who is one of the writers on BTILC here, is a better film. They both have a quality which seems ill-judged and out of control, but arguably isn’t — a breakneck forward thrust with snatches of incoherent exposition hurled out in all directions along the way and far too many factions attacking from a similar plenitude of directions. Arguably BTILC has a better gimmick in a hero who hasn’t a clue what’s going on, so gets to act as audience surrogate and ask useful questions. Whereas Peter Weller’s Buckaroo is too far ahead of us to be really relatable, so that cowboy brain surgeon New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum) almost takes over.

There are three credited writers, two on screenplay and Richter, oddly, as “adaptation” — what, one wonders, was the screenplay adapted INTO? Surely if it’s another screenplay, the word would be “rewrite”. One of the original writers, Gary Goldman, co-wrote TOTAL RECALL, which has VERY complicated script credits, and the other, David Z. Weinstein, has no other script credits, though his industry involvement in other roles, AD and script editor, suggests he’s probably written a ton of unmade scripts. And the whole thing feels a bit like too many cooks — too many monsters, too many henchmen, too many tongs, too many green-eyed girls, too many chums — an attempt to graft a Hawksian hang-out movie, probably Carpenter’s notion, onto a martial arts mystical action comedy.

Nobody seems able to do what Hawks did, which looked effortless when it worked, and aimless when it didn’t. Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD occasionally gets close but has to depend on outright plagiarism from the script of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. But this one has charm, aided by the right actors — Dennis Dun is delightful, Kim Cattrall’s Nancy Drew routine is cute, Victor Wong lovely as always and James Hong a terrific baddie — a charm Carpenter hasn’t often infused his work with, though sometimes it looks as if he intended to.