Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrian Brody, Joey Jozef, Lin Peng, Mika Wang, Choi Si-won, Xiao Yang, Wang Taili, Sammy Hung, Steve Yoo, Vanness Wu, Karena Lam, William Feng Shaofeng, Lorie Pester, Sharni Vinson
Written by: Daniel Lee
Directed by: Daniel Lee
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence
Language: Mandarin, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 102
Date: 09/04/2015

Dragon Blade (2015)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Silk Road-Weary

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This high-priced Chinese battle epic features exciting, show-stopping fight scenes, but the storytelling in-between is non-existent, as if lazily looking for ways to kill the time. (Given that this official U.S. release has been trimmed by 25 minutes, it's possible that the original 127-minute cut -- which I haven't yet seen -- is more cohesive.)

Somewhere around 50 B.C., the Protection Squad, led by Captain Huo An (Jackie Chan), attempts to maintain peace on the Silk Road near China. An army of Roman soldiers arrives, and general Lucius (John Cusack) picks a fight with Huo An. A sandstorm interrupts, and Huo An takes advantage of the situation to befriend Lucius. He learns that Lucius is a fugitive, on the run from the evil Tiberius (Adrien Brody), having rescued Tiberius's young brother from his jealousy and treachery. When the Protection Squad is betrayed and forced into labor, building a city, the outcast Romans help. A bond of friendship is formed, which may be all that protects our heroes from the vengeful Tiberius's awesome armies.

Chan handled the fight scenes, and even after so many years in the business, he has conjured up some beauties, including Huo An saving his family with a length of blue silk, and practicing a choreographed battle-ballet with his men. Chan gets some good moments with his heroic and dignified character, but John Cusack looks pained trying to get through his dialogue, and Adrien Brody wound up with the short end of the stick as the sneering, one-dimensional villain. Some of the bit players are even more abysmal, shouting random lines designed as padding. Indeed, the movie's rhythm and editing seem entirely arbitrary. Better to skip this and look for the original cut.

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