Dragon Blade, 2015.
Directed by Daniel Lee.
Starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody.
Set in China during the Han dynasty (206-220 AD), Dragon Blade follows Huo An (Chan), an official framed and enslaved for a crime he didn’t commit. Soon thereafter, however, he meets a Roman soldier in Cusack’s Lucius and the pair begin to form an unlikely alliance.
Career lulls. It happens to the best of them. Jackie Chan’s career has hit something of an impasse. Gone are the halcyon days of the 80’s and early 90’s where Chan revolutionised Hong Kong action cinema with his patented blend of insane stunts and frantically (yet intricately) choreographed fight scenes. Then his Hollywood career took him on a diversion which was a mixed bag, seeing success with Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon (and their mixed bag of sequels). The others were frankly horrendous as it became fairly clear that Chan needed to be partnered with someone and they had to be right for him. In Hong Kong Chan has attempted to mature with mixed results and has found himself in a few big budget epics, and more dramatically centred action films.
Chan’s die hard fans (myself included) of course must accept that at 61 he can’t do the sort of crazy stunts he did 20-30 years ago and also that he’s earned the right to try and branch out as an actor. Chan aside, Dragon Blade features two Hollywood stars at their own career crossroads. Adrien Brody has disappeared off the mainstream map somewhat and The Pianist seems like an age ago now. Likewise the time when John Cusack was “the” everyman, easygoing romantic comedy lead has passed. He has now become a regular fixture in straight to video films and seems to have lost a lot of the verve that he had when he became famous in the 80’s, before becoming a leading light around the turn of the century. As a fan of Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity, Cusack has more in his locker than he’s showing recently and deserves better than many of the films he’s in.
So, on the surface Dragon Blade looks like a coming together of three actors who have seen better days. Normally such a combination would result in a film that does little to break any such stars out of their situation. Chan’s big screen box office appeal in the West is virtually zero now, and the same goes for Brody and Cusack, so is Dragon Blade worth seeking out or is it destined to slip quietly under the radar?
When corrupt Roman leader Tiberius (Brody) takes an army to claim the silk road, it’s up to Huo An (Chan) to bring together his army with defected Roman soldiers (including Cusack) in order to battle the maniacal Tiberius. It’s pretty formulaic war epic stuff really. Every cliché in the book is rolled off from entirely predictable deaths to cries of “we’ll die together!”
Dragon Blade has lush visuals and some nice fight sequences, particularly the close counter, one to one fights. The wide-scale battle sequences aren’t quite as inspired though. Sadly what works against Dragon Blade is how saccharine and melodramatic the whole affair is. It’s predictable from the first to last-minute and whilst many of the cast approach it all with good intentions the whole thing is pretty ham-fisted with a huge side order of cheese.
Chan tries hard but he’s working against a poor script. There are a few brief comical moments in his opening fight sequence and one feels a sense of promise for what may follow in the next 90 minutes but nothing ever quite lives up to that as Chan from then on does little more than look a little bit sad. Cusack just looks like he’s constantly thinking “what the hell am I doing?” He’s bored out of his mind and phones in a performance, which is a real shame as Cusack has been an avid kickboxer and martial arts fan. He has given cameos to the likes of Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez in a couple of his films and you could assume he must have been a fan of Jackie Chan. Still, the idea of teaming up with Chan does little to inspire Cusack now he’s approaching 50.
Then there is Adrian Brody. Oh boy. We’re talking an Oscar-winning actor here in case you’d forgotten. Some 13 years on from lifting his statue though, he gives one of the most lamentable performances I’ve seen in some time. I mean it’s not even comically bad, it’s just mind numbingly bad. Quite why he’s chosen to deliver his performance with a (bad) 19th Century English Victorian gentleman’s accent, I don’t know.
Dragon Blade whilst fairly lavish (as you’d expect from a big budget epic) is also hampered by the worst weaknesses that can blight such a film. From the direction and script (both from Daniel Lee), to the music and everything in between, this is just overwrought and almost putridly sentimental. For the principal cast it’s yet another forgettable entry on their respective CV’s.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★