Skip… Just Skip
The undercurrent of Skiptrace holds a farewell tone. A police chief looks at Jackie Chan and states, “Time to think about retirement.” Later, to co-star Johnny Knoxville, Chan remits, “I work too hard. I have no life.” Penetrative statements as Chan slips into his 60s, still cranking out action films.
Certainly, the overarching quality of Skiptrace lends additional credence. After a wild, entertaining opening, with Chan stepping across collapsing buildings as they fall from the domino effect, the film meanders without much energy. Although directed by Renny Harlin of Die Hard 2 and the under-appreciated John Cena schlocker 12 Rounds, Skiptrace has the hallmarks of a Chinese-produced film desperately trying to fit the American mold. It doesn’t work.
Part of this falls on Johnny Knoxville, the best bump-and-tumble guy in the business if a dismal actor. He’s rotten as Connor Watts, international shyster and smooth talker, filling in the Chris Tucker Rush Hour role with less morality. Even when surrounded by Chinese-American accents – apparently for the sake of import value – Knoxville can’t stand out.
And Chan too, unavoidably slowing with age to a point where the safer stunts lose the Jackie Chan appeal. He’s a wonderful comedian, but the timing is slipping away. Decades of injuries don’t help. Now he’s beholden to wires and atrocious green screen stunts which erode the best of Chan in a hunt for forgiving nostalgia.
Take too the pacing, a hodgepodge approach sending the Chan/Knoxville pair around the world on foot to conquer corrupt cops. It’s challenging to watch, edited into place with a random eye for scenery, rushing ahead to one choppy gag after another. When it’s on, Skiptrace holds a freshness. The opening collapse and a wildly fun garbage can chase earn their place. Later, the duo ride on a river raft and inevitably hit the rapids in a scene so dangerously cliché, it deserves a waterfall at the end.
Chan’s superstar status never left him throughout China. Box office success continues to create a draw, but while American directors never understood Chan’s approach to action, their ability to elevate his persona proved invaluable. Coming from his gorgeous and well showcased homeland, he seems trapped, trying hard to be himself while mimicking (poorly) American narrative style. He’ll need more than Johnny Knoxville to break back in internationally.
It’s pretty. Shot digitally with a clean, perfectionist sheen, images showcase outstanding resolution. Exteriors build a gorgeous visual travelogue of Eastern countries, cities and farmlands included. Close-ups pour on facial detail and exude high quality. Medium shots do the same, while the overall clarity is likely more damaging to the lesser visual effects than a lower quality transfer.
Flushed with color and minimal tinkering, the variety on display keeps Skiptrace from becoming repetitive. Saturated primaries shine throughout, and accurate flesh tones are an anomaly in era so fond of rendering them dull in post-production.
Nearly all of Skiptrace exists under natural daylight, save for the third act. The organic brightness allows for consistent contrast and depth, totally unimpeded. When night comes, black levels fall into place, keeping the image density in place without any loss. Interiors follow suit.
While exaggerated and even incorrect at times, the heartily mixed DTS-HD track holds a pleasing, loudly dynamic soundstage. As the dock collapses to close the opening act, creaking, cracking wood fills the speakers, trapping the listener and Chan in the destruction. Add in some solid LFE to complete the effect and it’s a strong start.
Those elements echo throughout, spreading fight scenes throughout the stereos and rears. Directionality feels accentuated and bold, not natural but plenty of fun. Chan’s ride on the rapids spreads splashing water around and in the closing chapters, a sinking boat mimics the opening destruction. However, errors exist. When Chan/Knoxville slide down a rope, the “whoosh” effect of them passing by the camera comes far too early, out of sync with the action.
Renny Harlin hops into the recording booth for a commentary track, followed by a simple making of with Knoxville and Chan discussing their roles.
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