'Kung Fu Yoga'
There was a time when Jackie Chan’s name was an instant stamp of quality on an action movie. Especially back in the days when he directed in addition to starring in his movies and doing his own stunts, Chan seemed incapable of delivering anything boring. Sure, some of the jokes might not connect and the plotting was rarely much more that perfunctory, but dammit, the flicks were always entertaining and filled with death-defying stunt work that wore down the rewind button on plenty of VCRs. Sadly, those days have long since passed.
You can’t blame the now 62-year-old Jackie Chan for not wanting to risk his life for an action scene anymore. However, it would be nice if Chan or his collaborators at least cared about delivering entertaining and effective products to the screen. Sadly, ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ makes it clear that’s no longer the case.
Chan plays a respected university professor (named Jack, because that’s easy to remember) specializing in Chinese/Indian history. He’s a bit of an Indiana Jones type, determined to track down all the valuable artifacts of the ancient world and shove them into museums. This time, he’s decided that buried treasure will be his focus, so he gets a couple of teaching assistants to hop on his team and go on one of those international life-risking quests that tend to happen in action movies. Sounds like a quick and fun ride through a bunch of postcard destinations, right? No, this isn’t that. In fact, any time the movie is about to kick off an action scene, Chan is required to spit out an endless history lesson explaining why we need to care about something that is ultimately a MacGuffin. There are flashbacks to CGI-heavy battles that add little, all sorts of horrible CG animals that very easily could have been real, lots of boring diversions and very little of the action, comedy or charm that most folks show up to a Jackie Chan movie for.
It’s no secret that Chan has been dialing back the stunts and fights that he performs in his movies. Fair enough. He’s older now and no one can claim that didn’t prove himself many times over. Generally, his recent movies make some jokes about him being too old and then he gets assigned a younger co-star who can do the heavy lifting when he can’t. This is one of those movies. Most of the time that Chan is set up for an action scene, his completely unmemorable sidekicks jump in and do it instead. Unfortunately, they rarely actually do any physical action. They mostly just fight off horribly unconvincing CG animals and then make ridiculous faces at the camera. And if you were hoping for at least some old-fashioned Jackie Chan slapstick to make up for the lack of enjoyable fights and action… well, don’t hold your breath. The big gag involves Chan pulling a rug out from under some baddies. (Get it?! A visual pun! Woo!) The rest aren’t even worth mentioning because they’re somehow even worse than that.
As Chan transitions into his elder years, he seems to be even less interested in getting laughs than doing stunts. So much of ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ involves Chan delivering serious monologues and boneheaded spiritual lessons that it’s embarrassing. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a star wanting to change his persona as he ages (and it particularly makes sense for Jackie Chan given that he must be at least 75% plastic, metal and machine after all the injuries he sustained as a younger man). However, a movie called ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ isn’t really the place to get serious. It seems to be framed as a throwback Chan picture, reuniting him with his old directing partner Stanley Tong (‘Supercop’, ‘Rumble in the Bronx’) for a goofy globe-hopping adventure, except that never really arrives.
‘Kung Fu Yoga’ is an oddly dull and overly sincere tale about an adventurer on a mission that fails at the action, adventure and comedy that it promises. Maybe Chan just shouldn’t be making these sorts of movies anymore, even as a favor to old friends. It’s unclear what the best movies from the last chapter of Jackie Chan’s career will be, but ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ sure as hell won’t ever be considered one of them.