Chinese Zodiac (2012)
Action superstar Jackie Chan’s last foray into the cinematic world of death-defying stunts is sure to rub a number of his long-time fans the wrong way. Instead of going back to basics, Chan goes completely over-the-top. Unfortunately, the film tends to suffer as a result. Chan stars as JC, a worldly adventurer who is known for his ability to find and retrieve rare artifacts from around the globe. His latest mission is to recover a number of relics stolen from the Old Summer Palace years ago. Chan’s excursion takes him to a number of exotic locales, which allows for a number of goofy action-packed set pieces. Sadly, the story driving these confrontations feels like an unproduced episode of “Jackie Chan Adventures.” While Chan does participate in a few cool fights towards the end of the feature, those of you hoping for an old school Jackie Chan flick will walk away from this particular endeavor feeling greatly disappointed. If you hated “Around the World in 80 Days,” then you’re definitely going to loathe “Chinese Zodiac.” Although I did enjoy the experience overall, it’s definitely not the finale fans were hoping for. Fun and entertaining, though certainly not without its flaws.
John Dies at the End (2012)
Theoretically speaking, I should have loved genre veteran Don Coscarelli’s latest horror/comedy. It’s weird, it’s original, and it’s loaded with plenty of gore. For whatever reason, the whole thing didn’t really click as a package. The film tells the story of David Wong, a man who discovers a strange new world thanks to a drug known as Soy Sauce. As it turns out, sinister things are afoot, and only he and his friend John can save the planet. The film is a mixed bag of overplayed horror elements, surreal imagery, and a script that thinks it’s smarter than what it really is. I was on-board for the whole absurd journey until the end, which is as ludicrous as it is poorly-executed. There are people who love “John Dies at the End” with every fiber of their being, and I totally get why they adore the story and the characters. Unfortunately, it just didn’t come together for me when all was said and done. Chances are you’re going to enjoy Coscarelli’s weird cinematic adventure. I wish I could say that same. However, know this: Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown are, as always, total badasses. And that’s an official statement.
For my money, action movies really don’t get much better than director Peter Travis’ “Dredd.” The film reminds me of the action flicks I grew up watching as a kid; it’s lean, it’s mean, and doesn’t take it’s time getting to the good stuff. Karl Urban stars as the title character, a futuristic law enforcement officer who is taking his rookie partner out for her first spin. Before long, the two are trapped inside a mega structure filled to overflowing with heavily-armed villains under the command of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). All sorts of bloody chaos ensues. Travis and company pack as much action as humanly possible into the film’s slim 90 minutes, infusing his gory set pieces with an abundance of gore and some neat visual trickery. The film might be style over substance, but that’s exactly “Dredd” is selling. This thing isn’t high art, nor does it pretend to be. Travis and Karl Urban have delivered one of the best straight-forward action flicks of the year. It’s just a damn shame nobody turned up to see it in theaters. Although I’d love to see a sequel, I doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon. That kind of makes me sad.