Every summer, it seems, we're let down by big-budget Hollywood popcorners which promise so much and then deliver so little. Okay, so this year's not been that bad, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that a summer movie with a Western/comedy feel should have a distinct whiff of manure about it, especially after the risible Wild, Wild West. But you'll be surprised: Shanghai Noon is one of the most downright enjoyable action-comedies for years. If you go in suspecting manure, chances are you'll come out smelling roses.
Jackie Chan's still on a chop-socky slapstick tip, and, even though he's been encouraged to tone down his act since working in the US, with all its annoyingly strict health and safety laws, he's still the greatest at delivering inventive, rib-cracking, break-neck fight sequences. Here, Chan exploits the Western setting to the full, trading tomahawk throws with murderous Crow Indians, twirling a set of wall-mounted moose antlers during a bar-room brawl and even taking out a trio of gunmen using a horseshoe. Chan's latest doesn't exactly redefine his onscreen persona, but who cares? You can easily root for hero Chon Wang, and Shanghai Noon ain't exactly a movie which demands much emotional depth.
Yet, while it certainly packs a punch in terms of Jackie's action antics, the film's more likely to incapacitate you through sheer laughter. Miles Millar and Alfred Gough's script is rammed with so many smart gags that, once you're tickled, you'll find it hard to stop snorting. Millar and Gough clearly know their Westerns, and slip in references whenever they can, from Chan's character's name (misheard as "John Wayne", prompting the reply: "What kind of a cowboy name is that?"), to a spoof-Leone showdown.
However, like Chan's last Hollywood outing, Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon is utterly dependent on the odd-buddy-comedy interplay. And it's relative unknown Owen Wilson (`starred' in The Haunting, co-wrote Rushmore) who makes this movie, triggering more guffaws in one scene than Chris Tucker in an entire flick.
As Roy, Wilson exudes a surf-dude, rogueish charm. He's so useless with a gun that he compensates by playing up the embellishments of Western heroism - so he's great at shouting "Yee-haw!" and jumping on a horse, and can twirl his mother-of-pearl-handled six-shooters with impressive dexterity. He takes to the thrill of the adventure like a big kid playing... well, cowboys and indians. And that's the key to the success of Shanghai Noon - it never underestimates its audience's desire for a shamelessly fun and good-natured romp.
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Chan and Wilson make perfect pardners in this sparklingly witty, action-packed comedy. Chan heaps on the thrills with some super-sharp choreography while Wilson very nearly steals the show with his charming, but cack-handed, outlaw.