In 1966 Woody Allen launched his filmmaking career by taking a cut-rate, straight-faced 1964 Japanese James Bond knockoff called “Key of Keys,” erased the sound and music tracks, replacing it with his own uproarious dialogue and got the Lovin’ Spoonful to compose a groovy score. When American International Pictures released it as “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?,” Allen was on his way.
It’s lucky that actor-producer-writer-director Steve Oedekerk had “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls,” “The Nutty Professor” and other hits under his black belt before he decided to turn the 1976 chop-socker “Tiger & Crane Fists” into “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist,” which 20th Century Fox wisely opened last Friday without advance screenings for the press. Like Allen, Oedekerk erased the dialogue of the old film, but he also shot lots of well-matched inserts on rural Mexican locations and even had himself digitally incorporated into the film as its star.
This reworking was infinitely more elaborate and costly than Allen’s venture, but the result is hopelessly inane, humorless and under-inspired. Small children might be amused by some of the kung foolishness, but the martial arts genre violence that goes with it is wholly inappropriate for youngsters.
In essence “Kung Pow” is a typical tale of karate vengeance. The Chosen One (Oedekerk), even as an infant is a kung fu wiz but this was not enough to save the lives of his parents, slaughtered by the villainous Master Pain (Lung Fai). For obscure reasons, Master Pain is better known as Betty, who enjoys the protection of a vaguely defined outfit called the Evil Council, which apparently holes itself up in an array of floating pyramids.
The Chosen One, raised by rodents, inexplicably grows up to be a white man whose tongue has a life of its own, so to speak, for its tip has eyes and a mouth, which has its own tongue that can extend itself so far as to lasso one of those pyramids. Oedekerk has also inserted a karate-kicking cow, which is not as funny as one might expect. “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist” ends with a trailer for a purported sequel. With any luck, it’s meant as a joke.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for comic violence, crude and sexual humor. Times guidelines: Despite a tongue-in-cheek approach, the film’s mindless martial arts genre violence is too strong for youngsters.
‘Kung Pow: Enter the Fist’
Steve Oedekerk ... Chosen One
Lung Fai ... Master Pain (Betty)
Leo Lee ... Young Master Pain
Jennifer Tung ... Whoa
A 20th Century Fox release of an O production. Writer-director Steve Oedekerk. Producers Paul Marshal, Tom Koranda, Oedekerk. Cinematographer John J. Connor. Editor Marshal. Music Robert Folk. Costumes Shawnelle Cherry. Production designer Hector Velez. Set decorators Veronica Baena Arellano, Pachilu Moreno. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.
In general release.