SNAFU Ex-Baghdad Project X Project X-Traction Hidden Strike has after years passed through enough Chinese censorship lawyers that it has been allowed to sneak through the backdoor at Netflix. If you’re not familiar with the long story of this film; it started out as a Jackie Chan and Stallone collaboration before Stallone’s performance in Creed let him pick more rewarding projects than Chinese propaganda films. So Sly is out, that’s in 2017, Cena comes in and they film it, that’s 2018, and then it goes quiet. You see there was a sudden upswing in the demand for movies where Americans were the enemy at the Chinese box office (i.e. Sniper, The Battle at Lake Changjin, etc.) and suddenly the outlook for this co-production wasn’t so hot anymore. So it was pulled back and retooled and now dumped on Netflix with about 15 Chinese production companies in the opening credits. It also seems they said “fuck it” to the Chinese box office on this one.
So was it worth the wait? Did it age like fine wine in the cellars of Chinese production offices? Oh my no, but let’s take the plot first. Jackie is sent to
Iraq Afghanistan an unnamed country in the near future to extract a team of Chinese scientists from an oil refinery, Cena on the other hand is a mercenary who is convinced by his brother to take part in a “heist”/kidnapping of the lead scientist. One double cross later and a dead brother later Cena and Chan have to team up to rescue the scientist and prevent an oil heist by the mercenary who betrayed Cena.
This film has exactly three things going for it; Jackie Chan, John Cena, and the chemistry between them. Colour me surprised, but Cena and Chan actually make for a great on screen duo. The interplay between them is great and they are naturally funny together. Even in the blooper reel at the end you can see the character dynamic carrying over between them out of character. I don’t even want to think about what this would be like with a po-faced Stallone opposite Jackie because the laughs is pretty much all this has going for it. That and one big action set piece at the end. Jackie’s stunts these days are him doing a somersault across the floor. The film is filled with garish CGI and greenscreen shots that makes you wonder how many reshoots it had. Unless Jason Statham and 60 Cent have some off the charts chemistry it doesn’t bode well for Scott Waughn’s The Expendables 4.
Sympathy for the Devil
This new Nic Cage thriller is a “one long night” movie about an expecting father (Joel Kinnaman) who gets an unwanted passenger (Nic Cage) on his way to the hospital. At first it seems like a riff on Collateral as Cage demands his errands be run, but it soon emerges that it is no random car and driver that Cage has picked. But is it a case of mistaken identity or is Kinnaman hiding some deep dark secrets?
This is practically a chamber play between the two leads and thankfully they work very well together which carries this movie. You get your trademark unhinged Nic Cage performance, because while I compared it to Collateral there is nothing of Cruise’s calm and professional Vincent in Cage’s performance, akin more to his Vampire’s Kiss performance. Kinnaman gets the more thankless task of playing the straight man while Cage monologues boogers and yells at the top of his lungs. He’s very good at it though, he’s got a very peculiar face that reads great and it’s just perfect for reacting to all the mayhem that unfolds.
The more twists and turns unravel the harder it becomes to find sympathy for any of the characters, far less the devil. I at least found it difficult to be engaged in a climax where I felt I wasn’t sure which character I’d rather see survive the film. That might be a personal thing that goes away upon rewatch as I know where the journey ends, or it could mar the good will of the first part. Only time will tell, but it is a recommendation from me for now. If you enjoy a good “one long night” film and a wild Nic Cage performance then give it a watch. It’s much better than the DTV stuff he was pumping out 5 years ago.