If the best thing about "Bulletproof Monk" is its snappy title -- and it is -- the most surprising thing is that the dialogue is in English. Though made for a major studio with a recognizable cast, it is hard to differentiate it from the standard-issue Hong Kong-style dubbed programmers that first introduced the martial arts to American audiences.
More a middling diversion than anything more noteworthy, "Bulletproof" benefits from the odd-couple casting chemistry between its stars, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's" Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott of "American Pie" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" We're talking guys who really don't speak the same language.
This shrewd coupling aside, it is hard to fight the notion that "Bulletproof" is dumber and more generic than it needs to be. Directed by Paul Hunter, the latest commercial and music video director to make a mindless transition to features, the film lacks the smarts and the skill that made both "Crouching Tiger" and "The Matrix" such deserved hits.
Instead it putters along in its standard way, throwing in enough acceptable fighting to keep the die-hards happy but, even with over-use of computerized effects, never doing enough to take our breath away.
"Bulletproof Monk" began life as a comic book, and screenwriters Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, ever respectful of that lineage, have not allowed the film's dialogue or plot points to rise above their cartoonish origins.
The action begins in 1943 Tibet at something called the Temple of Sublime Truth, where a young monk (Chow) is told the secret of the Scroll of Ultimate Truth. It contains words so powerful that should anyone read all of it, even if they yawn or move their lips, they will gain the power to control the world.
The monk learns this because he has fulfilled the three noble prophecies and is about to become the new guardian of the scroll. This job changes regularly every 60 years, like an oil change on an extremely economical car.
But all is not tranquil in mountainous Tibet. A horde of Nazis, those most convenient of villains, wants the scroll to further their own nefarious aims. Led by Struker of the SS (Karel Roden), they barge into the Temple of Sublime Truth like it was a Munich beer hall. (Maybe they couldn't read the sign.) But it's all for naught -- the scroll escapes and so does the monk.
Cut to 60 years later, which is, like, today. It's time for another oil change but the monk is now in a major metropolitan area where the modern equivalent of Nazis, husky guys in black suits with telephone cords coming out of their ears, are after the scroll under the direction of the villainous Nina (Victoria Smurfit), a ringer for Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.
Just in time, the monk crosses paths with Kar (Scott), a cocky young pickpocket who just happens to know a thing or two about the martial arts.
The monk tolerantly views Kar as a compassionate guy hobbled by impure thoughts, which is kind of the way inevitable love interest Bad Girl (Jaime King) looks at him. Could this young rapscallion with major discipline problems possibly be the next Bulletproof Monk?
Chow Yun-Fat, whose English is ever so slowly improving from film to film, mostly gets to use it reciting a string of fake Buddhist platitudes of the "water which is too pure has no fish" variety. And Scott's dialogue, frankly, is even less memorable.
Oblivious to how formulaic and uninvolving all this gets is director Hunter, who to all intents and purposes seems to view the film as one long Diet Pepsi spot. It's a good thing the Buddha didn't live to see this.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for violence, language and some sexual content
Times guidelines: Cartoonish violence, sexual innuendo
Chow Yun-Fat ... Monk With No Name
Seann William Scott ... Kar
Jaime King ... Jade/Bad Girl
Karel Roden ... Struker
Victoria Smurfit ... Nina
A Lion Rock production, a Flypaper Press production, in association with Lakeshore Entertainment and Mosaic Media Group, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Director Paul Hunter. Producers Charles Roven, Douglas Segal, Terence Chang, John Woo. Executive producers Kelley Smith-Wait, Michael Yanover, Gotham Chopra, Caroline Macaulay. Screenplay Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris, based on the Flypaper Press comic book. Cinematographer Stefan Czapsky. Editor Robert K. Lambert. Costumes Delphine White. Music Eric Serra. Production design Deborah Evans. Art directors T. Arv Grewal, Eric Norlin. Set decorator Clive Thomasson. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times