`Monk' is little more than string of cliches

No visual style, amateur effects

April 16, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Chow Yun-Fat deserves so much better than Bulletproof Monk, there ought to be a law. Rarely has so charismatic a performer been wasted on such mindlessly inept drivel.

Here's a sampling of the cliches strung together in this amateur-night production: the wise Buddhist monk, the bad guy covered in tattoos, the vengeance-obsessed Nazi, the wisecracking petty thief, the privileged gal who seeks her identity on the streets, the doughnut-eating cop, the dying mentor, the slugfest pitting one beautiful woman against another, the movie critic aghast that professional filmmakers can't do any better than this.

OK, I added that last one myself. But it's an accurate representation of my state of mind. If Bulletproof Monk is what passes for a good idea in Hollywood these days, then movie studios have some nerve insisting they can't explain why theater attendance is slipping.

Chow plays the titular holy man, and it is his job to protect a scroll so powerful that humanity simply can't handle it. (So why not just destroy it? Details, schmetails ... ). After 60 years of stellar service, he seems ready to pass on the responsibility to someone else.

But who? Of course, Chow's character (who has no name, since forsaking your identity is part of what makes one a good monk, apparently) heads for New York City. There, he encounters a skilled but shiftless pickpocket named Kar (Seann William Scott) who seems to have a good heart beating beneath his gruff exterior. He's also watched a lot of kung-fu movies over the years, and picked up a few moves along the way.

Recalling certain prophecies, Monk (sorry bud, but I'm giving you a name) stretches what they might imply and settles on Kar as his heir. Sort of.

Meanwhile, there's a Nazi (Karel Roden) who has been after the scroll since World War II. He and his lovely granddaughter (Victoria Smurfit) are willing to do anything to get it (including the use of a torture device that seems to serve no purpose than helping to justify the movie's PG-13 rating). And let's not forget Jaime King as Jade, a bad girl (we first see her at the side of a snarling, tattooed gang leader with a British accent) who also sees something she likes in Kar.

Chow, Scott and King bring more to their characters than they deserve; Chow and Scott develop a nice chemistry (often in spite of what the script orders them to do), while King manages to appear vulnerable and wicked, a tough combination.

It isn't hard to see where things go wrong. The special effects consist of the most amateurish use of a blue screen this side of Roger Corman (who generally worked with one-tenth the budget). And director Paul Hunter brings no visual style or other signs of panache to the proceedings.

This is a movie that thinks "cool" is high praise, particularly if the word is uttered by 13-year-olds who don't demand anything else. Hunter and his writers concoct dialogue that doesn't reach the level of banal and mistake vacuousness for wisdom.

Here's what passes for insight in Bulletproof Monk: "You can always find another hot dog."

You can always find another movie, too.

SUN SCORE: * 1/2

Bulletproof Monk

Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott

Directed by Paul Hunter

Released by MGM

Rated PG-13 (Language, martial-arts violence)

Time 103 mins.

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