Monday, October 12, 2015

A Troubling Review

About a year ago, I finally got around to watching Escape from New York. I expected one or two of its fans to grumble at me for the less-than-flattering review I gave it, but I got away unscathed. I doubt I'll be so lucky this time, though, when I am even less kind to another John Carpenter film that's generally more beloved: Big Trouble in Little China.

This 1986 cult film follows big rig driver Jack Burton as he tries to help a friend, Wang Chi, rescue his fiancee from a powerful sorcerer in San Francisco's Chinatown. I gather some of the love for the movie comes from the fact that it subverts a lot of heroic conventions. Burton is a rather bumbling character, and in fact is not really the protagonist of the story. He's actually more the sidekick to Wang Chi, missing out on key action and skating by on dumb luck. It's fun to see Kurt Russell in the role, and a sharp contrast to his heroism in other John Carpenter films.

But that was really the only aspect of the film that worked for me. The story is too threadbare to account for the way events bounce from place to place. The editing is overly aggressive. It often drops you into entirely new locations without any establishing shots to anchor you, and muddies the clarity of most of the combat sequences. But then, maybe it was bad martial arts and visual effects being intentionally obscured.

The acting is no better. Outside of Kurt Russell, it's pretty embarrassing. Kim Cattrall is by far the worst of the bunch; she seems to have been beamed in from a Flash Gordon serial or something, and is too campy even for this intentionally campy movie. Then there's the cartoonish depiction of Chinese culture, certainly meant to be in good fun, but too often flirting with stereotypes.

I wasn't wowed by Escape from New York, but I feel like it at least adhered to an internal logic and served up a few fun moments. Big Trouble in Little China just struck me as bizarre for the sake of being bizarre, and I found its "action" sequences too boring to hold my interest. I give it a D+.

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