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04/29/2008 - THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM
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THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM by Tom McCurrie


"The Forbidden Kingdom" is being marketed as the first time martial arts vets Jackie Chan and Jet Li are starring in the same movie together. Unfortunately, fans of both stars will find that teaming them up in one movie doesn't double the entertainment, but instead seems to reduce it by half.

Written by John Fusco and directed by "The Lion King's" Rob Minkoff, "The Forbidden Kingdom" tells the tale of how American teen Jason (Michael Angarano) is mysteriously transported to Ancient China, which is suffering under the rule of the evil Jade Warlord. Only the Monkey King can defeat this Warlord, but said Warlord has imprisoned the Monkey King in stone for 500 years. However, if Jason can reunite the Monkey King with his legendary weapon - a golden staff - the Monkey King will be magically sprung from his prison and save China from the darkness that has befallen it. Jason has to go on a long, arduous journey to bring the staff to the Monkey King, but he has some help from two companions who join him on his quest: Jackie Chan, a martial artist who needs to be falling-down drunk to fight, and Jet Li, a monk of few words and many punches (Jet Li also plays the Monkey King as well). Jason will need Jackie and Jet's help since the Jade Warlord and his minions will stop at nothing - even murder - to keep the staff from falling into the Monkey King's hands.

With a budget of $70 million, "The Forbidden Kingdom" certainly is a well-mounted production, with no expense spared when it comes to the sets, costumes and visual effects. However, having lots of money to throw at the screen doesn't guarantee you'll end up with something worth watching, and this, alas, is the case with "The Forbidden Kingdom."

The problems start with the story itself, which comes across as a warmed-over "Lord of the Rings" in Asian guise, what with the reluctant, outclassed hero having to take a magical something-or-other that can change the destiny of the world over an incredibly long distance with a "fellowship" of supporting characters joining him along the way.

Other elements also feel timeworn, like Jackie Chan lifting his "Only Fights Well When Drunk" character from his own "Drunken Master" series. Even the action feels by-the-numbers, as audiences have already seen the balletic, gravity-defying martial arts combat on display here in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) and numerous other movies since then. This gives "The Forbidden Kingdom" a sense of deja vu that makes the movie feel more stale and predictable than it should.

Worse yet, the movie's main selling point - Jackie Chan and Jet Li together for the first time - doesn't pay off in a satisfying way since they only have one scene where they fight each other. After that, they make peace and team up with Jason to fight a common enemy - the Jade Warlord. This is very disappointing, since audiences will expect these two martial arts titans to battle each other the entire movie as protagonist and antagonist.

This brings up another issue - Chan and Li aren't even the leads. They are relegated to supporting roles while Jason takes center stage and drives the story. Unfortunately, the actor who plays Jason, Michael Angarano, isn't up to the task of carrying the picture, giving a bland performance that deprives "The Forbidden Kingdom" of its emotional center. Of course, Angarano isn't entirely to blame, since his character is written in a very cliched manner - the immature, reckless teenager who eventually gains courage and wisdom over the course of his journey.

"The Forbidden Kingdom" isn't a terrible movie - but in a way, it's something worse. It's a forgettable one.



Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're now archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is finishing up (finally!) his first novel.




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