Jackie Chan gets 'Shanghai'-ed again

Wouldn't it be great if Jackie Chan could hook up with Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, the mirror-maze comic masterminds of 'Adaptation' and 'Being John Malkovich'?

At 48, having logged several anatomy books' worth of injuries, Chan has to adapt. Since he can't keep doing the death-defying stunts, he'll have to concentrate on physical comedy.

What he needs is a smart writer who can find an inventive context for his character and physical genius, and a director with the finesse to make it work.

Until then, we'll have to settle for the likes of 'Shanghai Knights,' which Ñ and here's a quote for the ads Ñ is one of the most successful sequels since 'Ernest Saves Christmas.'

In this follow-up to 'Shanghai Noon,' Chan returns as former Chinese Imperial Guardsman Chon Wang, reuniting with Owen Wilson's charming rogue Roy O'Bannon to avenge the murder of Wang's father and save Britain's royal family. Wang's spirited sister Lin (Fann Wong) is along for the ride, which is fast and funny enough to improve just slightly upon the mildly engaging original.

According to the production design and an opening title, the year is 1887. But you'd never know it from most of the jokes, virtually all of Wilson's dialogue and some incredibly lame music cues Ñ not to mention a smirky Brit villain (Aidan Gillen) who looks like a failed '80s rock star.

Ordinarily, this might constitute a problem. Fortunately, the last thing on this movie's mind is realityÊÑ and this movie may be the least thing on your mind even while you're watching it. So just sit back and enjoy Chan and Wilson doing their dance. Oh, yeah, and Wong is all right, too.

The major contribution of director David Dobkin, a music-video vet whose previous film was the cynical neo-noir misfire 'Clay Pigeons,' seems to have been to stay out of the way. Chan choreographs the action in his patented comic ballet style, resulting in what may be his most enjoyable bits of business since he went Hollywood. Of course, he could just bend over and cough and it would look good after 'The Tuxedo.'

Wilson's sly, loose goofball routine makes for an easier and easier-to-take rapport with Chan than Chris Tucker's motormouthed hyperactivity in the strained frenzy of the 'Rush Hour' films.

There's a running gag between Chan and Wilson here about who is whose sidekick, which is all too appropriate for the way Hollywood sees Chan. At least the 'Shanghais' keep their two stars on an equal footing, with Wilson's relaxed gab an appropriate match for Chan's physicality.

Still, if 'Shanghai Knights' is the best Hollywood can do with Chan . . . well, unfortunately, 'Shanghai Knights' is the best Hollywood has done with Chan so far. It's just a little bit more than more of the same.

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