The big-budget Jackie Chan action epic “Dragon Blade” may have been a box-office smash in its native China, but make no mistake: It’s kind of a mess. That more than 20 minutes have been trimmed for the stateside release may have hurt the film’s coherence, but viewers will be thankful for the shorter sit.
Set in western China in 48 BC, “Dragon Blade” involves the battle to rule the Silk Road, the famed trade route that linked Asia and Europe. The movie is said to be “inspired by true historical events,” which we can only hope played out in real life with fewer montages and flashbacks.
The good guys here are Huo An (Chan) and his Silk Road Protection Squad, who join forces with a legion of Roman soldiers who have defected led by soulful swordsman Lucius (John Cusack, somehow keeping a straight face). On the flip side is evildoer-in-chief Tiberius (Adrien Brody — don’t ask), a showy Roman leader who appears with a vast army of marauders to gain control of the pivotal region.
The story, crafted by writer-director Daniel Lee, serves mostly as an excuse to string together a chain of ambitiously staged fight scenes that run the gamut of weaponry, strategy, pageantry and costuming. These battle sequences, which culminate in a giant free-for-all, are never boring, just dizzying and, at times, interchangeable.
One can’t deny the visual and physical effort expended on this crisply shot film. But for all the tears shed, blood spilled, chests beaten and anthems sung, the movie’s grandiose emotional quotient never feels any more real than its ham-fisted dialogue, dubious accents, strained “Kumbaya” moments or eclectic hairdos. It’s not helped by struggling, risible performances, painfully mawkish tone and over-the-top death scenes.
MPAA rating: R for bloody violence.
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. In Mandarin, Cantonese and English with subtitles.
Playing: Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena. Also on VOD.