Believe it or not, signs are rife that this summer will bring at least a handful of popcorn flicks that we'll still respect in the morning.
"Shanghai Noon," a comic adventure that crosses Far East traditions with the rough-and-tumble American West of the of the late 1800s, easily falls into that category. Hong Kong action-film superstar Jackie Chan's latest Hollywood foray, directed by first-timer Tom Dey, is light but satisfying, a fast-moving, broadly entertaining effort that may well revive interest in Western movies -- a genre that suffered an all-but-deadly hit with last summer's awful Wild Wild West.
Chan's last U.S. project, 1998's Rush Hour, succeeded at the box office despite the star's chemistry-free pairing with abrasive, motor-mouth comic Chris Tucker. "Shanghai Noon" doesn't suffer from such a handicap: Chan and Owen Wilson establish a catchy rhythm early on and maintain it throughout the film. It's a buddy-movie pairing that could easily turn into a franchise.
Chon Wang (Chan) is an earnest, largely taciturn guy from Shanghai, a Chinese Royal Guardsman who speaks mostly with his flying hands and leaping feet. His limbs are sometimes utilized in tandem with antlers, horseshoes, spears and other handy objects, resulting in dazzling martial-arts displays that enable him to neatly subdue opponents.
Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) is the inept leader of a gang of a bumbling but dangerous train robbers. Wilson (The Haunting, Armageddon, "Bottle Rocket") gives the character an adroit blend of goofball cockiness and laid-back charm. A slow talker who often won't shut up, Roy can't shoot straight either, but he manages to survive a series of life-threatening situations. "I am like a wild horse: You can't tame me," he brags, sounding like Jack Nicholson gone surfer dude.
Chon and Roy meet atop a fast-moving train after wayward gang member Wallace (Walton Goggins) terrorizes Chon's party. The guardsmen are en route to Carson City, Nev., in hopes of trading a chest of gold for Chinese princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu, of Payback and TV's "Ally McBeal"), who's been kidnapped by the traitorous Lo Fong (Roger Yuan).
When the future pals temporarily go their separate ways, Roy ends up double-crossed by his cohorts in crime and Chon spends a memorable sojourn at an American Indian reservation, indulging in a peace pipe and a night of forgotten passion that leads to an unexpected ceremony.
"Shanghai Noon" draws its considerable energy from impressively choreographed rumbles, as the duo outwit the cruel Fong, sharp-shooting Marshall Van Cleef (Xander Berkeley) and various other enemies from the East and West. Fans of Chan's high-flying brand of action will be intrigued by the extended fight sequences, and the comedy is agile as well. It's an inspired combination.