After his previous attempt to crack America with Battle Creek Brawl didn’t exactly set the world on fire, Jackie Chan took another swing at the cinema going public of the west with The Protector, an unfeasibly gritty buddy cop movie that didn’t have the first clue about how to properly utilize the skills of its soon to be global treasure.
The movie proves to be a pretty sobering lesson in the basic laws of filmmaking with a key rule of “for the love of god, make sure your movie has the proper tone for your cast” being crammed down our throats every time poor old Jackie has to do the exact sort of thing his movies are famous for avoiding. Watching his pained expression as a little bit of his soul dies everytime there’s gratuitous violence, swearing or nudity (in basically every scene) is a disorienting experience, but what did you expect when your director is the dude who gave us the spectacularly grungy Vietnam vet-sploitation classic and Death Wish wannabe, The Exterminator?
Detective Billy Wong is celebrating his tenth year in New York as a police officer despite still having a native accent thicker than set concrete, but thanks to a roving band of gun wielding thugs who pick the wrong diner to rob, the celebrations are cut short when Billy’s partner is shot with enough holes to strain pasta though. Unleashing lethal karma literally during taking a piss, Wong pursues the final thug to a nearby marina where, after threatening civilians with his gun and stealing a speedboat, botched his arrest somewhat by driving said boat directly into the escaping criminal and getting lifted away by a helicopter while everything goes up like an oil refinery.
Needless to say, for his exploits Billy actually gets a slow clap from his colleagues but is still bumped down to crowd control by his typically shouty superior, which is immediately a mistake when you consider the last place Wong should be is anywhere near other human beings. Anyway, he’s partnered with Danny Garoni, a cop who, proudly, is also in constant trouble for repeated police brutality and who looks like his blood pressure is way higher than his IQ and on their first assignment together they have millionaire’s daughter Laura Shapiro kidnapped literally from under their noses during a fashion show.
Despite their demotions, Benny and Danny head to Hong Kong to bust the case after finding out that Daddy Shapiro is a suspected drug smuggler and his crime boss partner, Harold Ko, has probably snatched this middle-aged “girl” to ransom for better terms or something. However, if they’re going to save Laura, they’re going to have to overcome killer masseuses, kung fu bodyguards and Danny’s raging (and frankly upsetting) libido to win the day.
Due to their very differing styles of tastes, Jackie Chan and director James Glickenhaus apparently feuded endlessly while making this lumpen turkey and by fuck, does it show. Chan usually prefers things to have somewhat of a lighter touch while caring equally about the characters and their motivations, Glickenhaus on the other hand seemingly never avoided a single chance to be as exploitative as humanly possible, turning a movie that’s somehow so preposterous, it makes 80’s beat-em up video games seem like the freakin’ Godfather in comparison. Unsurprisingly it all fits Jackie like a two-fingered glove and you can actually see the discomfort etched on his trademark, adorable face. Its catching too, as watching the beloved martial artist scream “Gimme the fucking keys!” while pointing a gun at a civilian’s gawping face and having to utter toughguy lines like “It’s not your money we want, it’s your ass!” in broken english is just fucking weird to behold. Matters are made all the more confusing by the choice of casting Danny Aiello as his sidekick – I mean Chris Tucker, Owen Wilson and even Steve Coogan I get and Aiello is a fine actor, but Sal from Do The Right Thing? As an action hero?
It also doesn’t help that the character of Garoni is the worst example of action movie toxic masculinity you’re ever likely to see as his obvious love of hurting people and banging whores makes him a worse role model than Frank from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – christ, one scene has him ordering a blowjob while he gets a back massage and they roll her under his table on a board with wheels on like shes about to service the underside of a car and not an overweight, sweating, Italian-American.
However, all of this would be a issue if it pulled its weight on the action (it’s supposed to be an exploitation movie, remember), but despite some nifty explosions and some hugely overblown violence (A shot from Jackie’s standard police issue firearm blows a guy clean out a window like he was shot by a cannonball and everyone in the film seems to casually be carrying uzis like it’s a highly fashionable item), anyone looking forward to some classic Jackie Chan moves will be hideously disappointed. Glickenhouse obviously knows how to stage a boat chase, a gunfight and the sight of wrestler Big John Stud getting shot to death in a public toilet, but he can’t stage a martial arts scrap to save his life and his final reel scrap with Bill “Superfoot” Wallace is slow, annoying and light years away from the kind of magnificent show downs the actor would go on to have with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez.
In fact Chan was so upset with the final movie, he re-edited it for the release in Hong Kong but the choice of which one you should see really comes down to what you’ve come to the movie for in tbe first place. You want to see a cartoonishly bad action thriller that’s dated worse than some of Eddie Murphy’s stand up, go with Glickenhaus; however, if you want to watch a so-so Jackie Chan film with all the swearing and boobies exorcised then you know what to do – but honestly, both choices are rather loaded and there’s precious little of actual “protecting” in either.
There’s admittedly a lot of unintentional laughs in store for those, like me, that loves to take a dive into the sleazier, un-PC worlds of exploitation cinema just to see how entertainingly low the film can go, but if we’re being truly honest here, the only true positive we can get from the movie (aside from the sight of a shirtless, bloodied and bandaged Aiello shooting a sniper with what looks like a toy rocket launcher) is that the famously frustrating experiences Chan had on this impressively sordid potboiler directly gave birth to him making the peerless Police Story soon after.
Talk about your silver linings, eh?