When Jackie Chan was in his low-budget, Hong Kong action-comedy prime, it was easy to forgive his better movies for simplistic plots and mediocre (sometimes downright bad) acting because enjoying them came down to two things: Chan's comedic charm and the dangerous, awe-inspiring, ingeniously choreographed fights and stunts that he always performed himself.
When Chan started making $60- to $100- million Hollywood films, it was reasonable to begin expecting more, but the star just hasn't lived up to those higher expectations except when sharing the load with ad-libbing, scene-stealing Owen Wilson in the buddy pictures "Shanghai Noon" and "Shanghai Knights."
But "The Medallion," which is a Hong Kong production made with Hollywood money, feels like the return of good ol' cheesy, charismatic, pardonably haphazard Jackie Chan -- even if the daredevil actor has finally begun accepting the inevitable ravages of age and injury.
Relying this time out on wirework and CGI to pull off some of his crazier aerobatics and fisticuffs, Chan was smart enough to have a good reason built into the script: His character, a Hong Kong cop who tracks a master criminal (Julian Sands) to England, is killed in the first act. When brought back to life by a magical amulet -- which is the priceless, immortalizing artifact the bad guy was after in the first place -- he discovers he has super-human powers and virtual immortality.
Chan's talent for physical comedy is a blessing for the learning curve that accompanies his enhanced strength, speed and indestructibility. He makes the most of accidentally tearing off a car door when he just means to open it or contorting his body back into shape after falling from a skyscraper and hitting the pavement below with an unexpected thud instead of a splat. His fight scenes (choreographed by Sammo Hung) are entertaining and inventive, even though they include less of Chan's trademark kung-fu cleverness (employing handy objects as weapons, etc.) and more of the kind of harness-aided flying-through-the-air special-effects kicks and punches seen everywhere of late, including in "Charlie's Angels" and "Matrix" movies.
Veteran Hong Kong director Gordon Chan knows how to shoot a good kung-fu fight, which helps make up for the movie's shortcomings, like the complete lack of chemistry between Jackie and his leading lady, Claire Forlani ("Meet Joe Black") playing a beautiful Interpol agent and ex-lover. Sparks are supposed to fly anew as they work on capturing Sands, but despite Forlani's best girlish flirtations, it still feels as if there's a brick wall between them.
But that amusing Jackie Chan camp factor, which has been missing from his Americanized movies, is definitely present in this hybrid Hong Kong-Hollywood production, and that earns a lot of leeway for an in-script-only romance and quite a few other problems I would catalog with contempt in a movie less enjoyable.
The plot is rudimentary: The evil Sands kidnaps a pubescent monk (Alexander Bao) to get his hands on "The Medallion" and become immortal. Twists are often idiotically contrived (a Sands lackey posing as a nurse is given away by her go-go boots), jokes are usually telegraphed (Lee Evans, best known as the pizza-boy stalker in "There's Something About Mary," is 150-percent ham as a snooty but inept Interpol sidekick), and the finale goes overboard with fabricated philosophy and cheap F/X.
But when the credits rolled, I was smiling, and with a Saturday matinee movie like "The Medallion" that's my litmus test.