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Interchangeable 'Replacement'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 1998

  Movie Critic

The Replacement Killers
Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino star in "The Replacement Killers." (Columbia)

Antoine Fuqua
Chow Yun-Fat;
Mira Sorvino;
Michael Rooker;
Jurgen Prochnow;
Kenneth Tsang;
Steven Garcia
Running Time:
1 hour, 28 minutes
For action-movie violence and profanity
Without Chow Yun-Fat, who makes his American screen debut here, there'd be nothing to say about "The Replacement Killers." Antoine Fuqua's action movie is entirely free of surprise. It breaks no rules.

As usual, the hero (played by Chow) pursues a course of straightforward, bullet-ridden vengeance. And the villain (Kenneth Tsang) surrounds himself with tight-jawed, leather-coated over-actors who couldn't shoot an elephant from point-blank range with an Uzi in each hand. Loud, explosive and committed to every cliche in the Steven Seagal bible (if that's not a blasphemous oxymoron), "The Replacement Killers" is forgettable the instant it strafes your retinas.

But Chow's pretty face and cool presence are inescapable. You don't enjoy this movie, so much as you conduct a road test for the Hong Kong actor. Yes, he can survive in an English language picture! (For one thing, as Jean-Claude Van Damme will attest, speaking is only about the 29th most important thing in a Hollywood action flick, right behind being able to walk upright.) And yes, it would be wonderful to see him in a better action picture, more in keeping with the cult hits he made in the 1980s with John Woo – the Chinese director who produced "The Replacement Killers" and essentially imported Chow to America to appear in it. But let's not get over-excited.

Crimelord Mr. Wei (Tsang) hires hit man John Lee (Chow) to take care of Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker), the cop who killed Mr. Wei's son in the line of duty. But as Zedkov looms large in Chow's rifle scope, so do the detective's 7-year-old son and adoring wife. It's a Hallmark moment and Chow chokes. He can't make himself do it.

This lands him in deep doo-doo with Mr. Wei, Wei's lieutenant (Juergen Prochnow) and those leather-jacketed buffoons I mentioned. Before the inevitable reprisals, Lee tries to get a fake passport from professional forger Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino). But he isn't quite fast enough. Mr. Wei's men ambush them, only to perpetually miss from close angles. And we're off into the predictable blue yonder of yet another action adventure.

Sorvino, whose boyfriend Quentin Tarantino (a huge fan and friend of Woo and Chow) presumably provided her entree, is simply there to make sure audiences have a familiar, American face to help them get through the movie. Unfortunately – and this is no particular fault of hers – her significance in the story is marginal. She's a dramatic drag. And there is zero chemistry between her character and Chow's.

But Chow, the Alain Delon of Asia, exudes scads of coolness. It helps that he dresses rather like the dapper Delon as he appeared in "Le Samourai" – one of Woo's all-time favorite films. When Woo (best known in the United States for "Hard Target," "Broken Arrow" and "Face/Off") has anything to do with a film, even as a coproducer, expectations rise immediately. A true cineaste, he loves to make an orgiastic spectacle of violence, in tribute to his idol, Sam Peckinpah. But although director Fuqua is clearly replicating classic Woo fare – especially the story line, in which a gangster and a cop become close friends – the exercise feels old and wooden this time. As soon as Woo and Chow feel comfortable enough to raise their standards above the bottom-feeding level of Seagal and company, the action world will be theirs.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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