Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jackie Chan, Jose Ferrer, Kristine De Bell, Mako, Ron Max, David Sheiner, Lenny Montana, Mary Ellen O'Neill, H.B. Haggerty, Rosalind Chao, Larry Drake
Written by: Robert Clouse
Directed by: Robert Clouse
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 95
Date: 08/29/0009

Battle Creek Brawl (1980)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

One at a Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If I had seen this movie, which is Jackie's actual Hollywood debut (not Rumble in the Bronx), in 1980 without ever having seen any other Jackie Chan films I would have loved it. But it is 1996, and I've seen lots of other Jackie Chan films, and The Big Brawl (recently released on DVD under its alternate title Battle Creek Brawl), has a lot of serious flaws, despite the presence of its great star.

The first problem is that -- with the exception of an uncle (played by Mako) -- Jackie doesn't fight anyone who poses a serious threat; All of the bad guys are bumbling Americans. One of the thrills of watching a real Jackie Chan movie is that his opponents are fast and dangerous, and often attack in groups. The Big Brawl is directed by Robert Clouse, who made Bruce Lee's best film, Enter the Dragon, and is a graduate of the inexplicable "attack one at a time" school.

The second problem is too much plot. There is a lot of time wasted on things we don't particularly care about. For example, in the movie' climactic fight, Clouse shows us two entire boring fights between muscle-bound behemoths, when all the time we are just waiting for Jackie. Clouse also shows us a very long and boring roller skating race that has no payoff. And a subplot about a gangster who attempts to betray his family to the enemy family never goes anywhere.

Clouse was not clever enough to use Jackie to his fullest; while Jackie is sometimes on target, he just stands around a lot of the time. On the other hand, the great Jose Ferrer plays the lead bad guy, and he seems to give the part more gusto than the script calls for. He, like Jackie, makes the movie interesting for brief little spurts.

The fight scenes are very good, though, especially the training scenes with the uncle/mentor. It's my guess that Jackie was able to choreograph these himself. (Clouse must have learned enough from Bruce Lee to let the expert handle the bits he was best at.)

You can't become a Jackie Chan fan halfway. Once you're there, you must hunt down and devour every movie he ever made. The Big Brawl is worth watching, but only as a minor effort after sampling the real Chan in movies such as Project A Parts 1 and 2, Armour of God II, Dragons Forever, Drunken Master II, Police Story and Supercop.

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