The World War II spy thriller “Shanghai,” which initially played in China in 2010, is just now getting a U.S. release, but cries of a lost masterpiece are unlikely.
Like a smudgy printout from a toner-deficient copier, this “Casablanca” retread, starring John Cusack as an undercover naval intelligence officer and Gong Li as the mysterious wife of a gangster (Chow Yun-Fat), feels entirely disposable despite considerable production values and a larding of the cast with noteworthy stars from Japan (Ken Watanabe, Rinko Kikuchi) and China (Gong, Chow).
Hossein Amini’s script is set in 1941 and convolutedly tracks Cusack’s character’s investigation into a colleague’s murder. Against the backdrop of Japanese occupiers, resisting Chinese and opportunistic Germans, the film is a checklist of cloak-and-dagger tropes and self-conscious noir dialogue.
Under Mikael Håfström’s visually clunky, rhythmless direction, it’s a snooze of epic sameness: choppy action scenes, a blankly stern Cusack, and too many allegiance shifts to count or care for.
Gong is as radiantly melancholy a presence as ever, her elegant intelligence emitting its own transporting glow, but it’s a lonely light in an otherwise dreary wartime saga.
MPAA rating: R for strong violence, drug use, brief language.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Playing: In general release.