Sunday, February 21, 2016

Film Review: THE PROTECTOR (1985, James Glickenhaus)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jackie Chan (RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER), Danny Aiello (THE STUFF, DO THE RIGHT THING), Roy Chiao (BLOODSPORT, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM), John Spencer (THE ROCK, THE WEST WING), Mike Starr (GOODFELLAS, ED WOOD), Moon Lee (MR. VAMPIRE, FIGHTING MADAM, FIGHTING MADAM 2).  Cinematography by Mark Irwin (VIDEODROME, SCANNERS).
Tag-line:  "Now, New York has a new weapon––a cop with his own way of fighting crime!"
Best one-liner:  "I never go anywhere in southeast Asia without an Uzi!"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:
"Whaddya got for me today?"
-"Jackie Chan."
"Brilliant––he's one of my all-time favorite action stars, what with his gleeful comic timing, death-defying stunts, and penchant for Cannon Films-style wacky-action!"
-"What would you call that?  'Wacktion?'"
"Oh, stop.  So which one is it?  RUMBLE IN THE BRONX?  THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER? WHO AM I?"
-"THE PROTECTOR."
"THE PROTECTOR?!  You've never reviewed a Jackie Chan movie before, and you're starting with this one?"
-"This ain't my first Jackie-rodeo.  I can start wherever I want.  Though the truth is, I'm starting here because something like RUMBLE IN THE BRONX fills me with so much joy that I find myself unable to do something so pedestrian as taking notes for a review."
"But THE PROTECTOR?!  Jackie disavowed this film––the Americans didn't know what to do with him, despite the fact it's a Golden Harvest co-production.  It's filled with toothless action, devoid of humor, and clearly choreographed by frightened insurance adjusters.  It's like they checked Jackie's charm at the door and stuck him in the middle of a straight-to-video Chuck Norris vehicle."
-"I take offense to that."
"But you'll admit that this is a little more 'HERO AND THE TERROR' than 'SUPERCOP,' will you not?"
-"So it's not his best work.  So what?  There's plenty to enjoy here, and on a number of levels.  For starters, it's from director James Glickenhaus, a sleazy-NYC scion who brought us MCBAIN and THE EXTERMINATOR, and who is thus indirectly responsible for EXTERMINATOR 2, one of Cannon Films' greatest achievements."
"Go on..."
-"It depicts a New York hellscape, like out of DEATH WISH 3 or CYBORG, gangs with gaudy skull earrings and leather jackets with oversized shoulderpads roaming around a burned-out urban husk, populated only by man-sized rats and trash can fires.  They take out truckin' buddy semi-trailers like bandits going after covered wagons. "

"I can appreciate that."
-"Then we have Jackie Chan and his partner."

"Who's his partner?"
-"It really doesn't matter, because in his very first scene he shows off a stuffed animal he bought for his kid.  This small, sympathetic touch clearly telegraphs that he's not long for this world.  Saying it was his last week before retirement would have worked just as well, too."
"As far as buddy cop flicks go, that is an indisputable truth."
-"Indeed.  And as I predicted, he is fated to die before even nine minutes of movie have elapsed.  Gunned down by a gang of dudes with machine guns who accidentally rob a dive bar at 10:00 A.M. instead of the grocery store from COBRA, which they clearly intended."

"What a tragic scene."
-"Don't worry--Jackie puts it right, blasting the bad dudes with a handgun and only occasionally using flourishes of physicality and martial art.


The last guy escapes, but Jackie aims a speedboat at his speedboat and blows him up real good, all the while making his escape with a very conveniently timed helicopter rope."



"Is that the Statue of Liberty, under renovation?"
-"Hell yes it is.  That's the kind of moxie this movie's got.  Glickenhaus loves his New York, warts and all.  Where another filmmaker might have chosen not to show the scaffolding to preserve the aesthetic fairy tale, Glickenhaus revels in it.  He probably shows it to us five or six times."
"Nice."
-"And curiously, the caliber of cinematography is much higher than you'd expect for this sort of film.  I soon discovered it was vividly photographed by Cronenberg's own Mark Irwin!"

"That man sure knows how to do a glassy, glossy cityscape."
 -"Indeed he does.  So with the plot officially underway, THE PROTECTOR makes sure it hits every buddy cop trope, down the line.  Jackie's stick-up-his-ass boss disciplines him with the old "that's no excuse for blowing up half the goddamn harbor" and threatens to have his "badge and gun on my desk!"

We've all been there.

which is followed up by a slow clap scene whereupon his colleagues dramatically submit their approval of his maverick, hot-doggin', action-luvin' ways.




This is one of the best-ever 'contagious slow-clap' scenes in cinema, right up there with ROCKY IV.  The dead-eyed stare from the cop who starts it is well worth the price of admission.

Soon thereafter, there's a fashion show (prefiguring DEATH WISH 5),

Not quite ALL THAT JAZZ.

and Jackie is paired with Danny Aiello, and pretty much the remainder of the film takes place in Hong Kong––"
"Hold on one gosh-gadoodlin' minute.  Did you say Danny Aiello?"
-"Yes."

"You mean to tell me that there exists an 80s buddy cop movie with Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello."
-"Correct."
"Talk about burying the lede!  What the hell are you doing?"
-"Come on.  Let me do this at my own pace."
"So what does this turn into, a fish-out-of-water story, with Aiello at sea in Hong Kong?"

-"No, and they were clearly resisting that idea.  They say he 'spent a lot of time there during Vietnam.'  You can tell he knows the city very well because they have him say things like 'I never go anywhere in southeast Asia without an Uzi!'"
"Oh."
-"Yeah.  Once we get to Hong Kong, the proceedings slow down a little bit.  I think Glickenhaus is a bit out of his element. Eventually, there's an assassin wearing Marianne Faithfull's outfit from GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE, some head butts, some homoerotic splashing,


an action scene at a massage parlor/brothel, and a guy who attacks Jackie Chan with a handheld buzzsaw."

"Is that buzzsaw spraying neon-colored liquids?"
-"They're in a paint factory or something.  I don't know.  So later, Roy Chiao––the 'Obi-Wan Kenobi' of BLOODSPORT and the gangster at the Club Obi Wan in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM shows up to portray the villain of the piece."
"I see what you did there, and I'm not particularly impressed."

-"Anyway, Chiao doesn't have a whole lot to do beyond 'look menacing.'  Eventually, Danny Aiello––and not Jackie Chan, like the movie poster promises––wields that Duke Nukem style hand cannon and makes some stuff explode.

Jackie Chan drops a load of bricks on a helicopter and that's about it.  The stunts never take center stage and Jackie is never is allowed to do anything too endearing.  The whole thing is kinda not as good as it should be."
"That's what I figured.  Next time I'm picking the movie."
-"Yeah, yeah.  Three stars."

––Sean Gill

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