There’s a lot more editing in the stunts — jumps, tumbles, fights, mounting and dismounting a horse. For the first time in his movies, we can guess where we’re seeing the stunt man and when we’re seeing the “star.”
Yes, even Jackie Chan, martial arts comic beloved the world over for letting us see the amazing things his movies had him do, and see the outtakes of when stunts went wrong at the end, got old. He turns 69 the day his new movie, “Ride On,” opens in China and North America – April 7.
If you’ve ever been a fan of Jackie Chan, here’s a curtain call movie you won’t want to miss. It’s not that this meandering, maudlin trip down memory lane is all that good. It isn’t. Even the outtakes at the end are but ghosts of his greatest hits. But there’s an appreciation of what he’s meant to the cinema and just enough montages of Jackie’s Greatest Hits (and falls) to give his fans the warm fuzzies.
“Ride On” is a last roundup return to formula for Chan, who tried a trip to the dark side with the thriller “The Foreigner” a few years back, as if this imp could morph into every other aged action hero — just an old man with a grudge and guns.
“Ride On” is a deathly slow if generally affectionate homage to what he’s done for a living and the formula that he brought to decades of light thrillers and seriously funny martial arts comedies. “Fight,” but rarely to the death. Not “get the girl” but “save the girl” cousin, sister, friend or in this case “daughter.”
He plays a legendary, mostly-forgotten Hong Kong stuntman — quite the stretch — fending off debt collectors and struggling to get by by doing tourist photos and mascot appearances for small businesses with a horse he raised and trained.
Master Luo, like the actor who plays him, is second banana to an amusingly demonstrative horse named Red Hare.
Luo is in debt to a loan shark (Andy Oh), which could cost him his and Red Hare’s living quarters, an old stable/soundstage from the Hong Kong’s cinema’s past. And then his pride and joy, the horse he talks to, “Daddy” to child, has issues come up about his ownership. A “collector” wants to add this equine wonder to his stables.
Money talks in the kleptocratic Chinese oligarchy.
Luo needs legal help. He’s estranged from law school daughter Bao (Haocun Liu). She may want nothing to do with him. But her boyfriend (Guo Qilin) just finished law school, and his parents want to meet her one living parent. A deal is informally struck.
Meanwhile, Dami the Loan Shark and his goons have made one two-fisted attempt to collect too many, and Luo and his too-smart and pugilistically-inclined horse have foiled them — again. But this time they “go viral,” and all of a sudden the stunt work comes back.
The “old man” of the “brotherhood” of stuntmen is back in demand, mainly because of the dangerous stuff he’s willing to put the horse through. Luo is dismayed at the CGI “cartoons” that pass for stunts in the modern cinema.
“No one ‘falls’ for real these days,” a director assures him (in Mandarin with English subtitles). Luo does. So does Red Hare.
“You’re too old for big stunts,” his daughter complains. And the horse? “He isn’t a stunt man,” able to make his own decisions about the ever-rising risks Luo exposes him to.
Our story points Luo and Red Hare toward a reckoning, and Bao and Luo towards reconciliation.
Flashbacks show us not just Luo doing the impossible on film after film going back decades using vintage Jackie Chan clips, they tell us the story of the failed marriage and the bitterness the daughter carries into adulthood over the father who was “never there.”
The non-slapstick comedy here is contrived and clumsy. Luo comes off cocky, dumb and gauche when he “meets the parents,” for instance.
The fights between father and daughter have a similar abrupt, plot-device feel to them.
The stunts set up for the movies within the movie, even the ones that are allegedly part of the same film production, seem randomly costumed and conceived — anything to put Luo/Jackie Chan on a (sometimes fake, thank heavens) horse in the middle of a brawl, in ancient cavalry charges, jumping off cliffs and over steps.
The best scenes have Chan chatting up, cajoling and consoling the horse, who plainly has a big personality, even if that’s largely a product of the editing.
Take “Ride On” for what it is, Chan’s attempt at a graceful bow to the inevitable, and an affectionate remembrance of all the crazy stuff he’s done, the risks he’s taken and the bruises and broken bones he’s suffered when dangerous stunts go dangerously wrong.
A less-contrived, more streamlined script would have allowed more time for more clips of Jackie’s Greatest Hits and made for a more logical sampling of blasts from his past, and a more fun movie.
But there’s enough here to make any longtime fan nostalgic over the seat-of-the-pants pictures this screen legend conjured out of legions of foes and obstacles ranging from simple ladders and convenience stores to trains, sailboats and hovercraft all the way up to skyscrapers and the biggest “obstacle” of all, Chris Tucker.
Rating: Unrated, violence, largely slapstick
Cast: Jackie Chan, Haocun Liu, Guo Qilin and Andy On
Credits: Scripted and directed by Larry Yang. A Well Go USA release.
Running time: 2:06