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'Replacement Killers': Gangsters Behaving Badly

By Rita Kempley
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)

Director:
Antoine Fuqua
Cast:
Chow Yun-Fat;
Mira Sorvino;
Michael Rooker;
Jurgen Prochnow;
Kenneth Tsang;
Steven Garcia
Running Time:
1 hour, 28 minutes
R
For action-movie violence and profanity
Porno for the nondiscriminating gun nut, "The Replacement Killers" uses up more ammo than the armies of both world wars. But the shooters' marksmanship is so pitiful that they'd be the handicapped ones in a shootout with Mr. Magoo. They're nearly as aimless as this showcase for Hong Kong-style filmmaking and Asian action hero Chow Yun-Fat.

Chow, teamed here with scrappy forger Meg (Mira Sorvino), is on alien soil but familiar ground as John Lee, a Chinese hit man caught up in a crime lord's vendetta against the New York detective (Michael Rooker) who killed his son. The evil kingpin, Mr. Wei (Kenneth Tsang), orders Lee to snuff the cop's 7-year-old boy lest Lee's own family pay the consequences.

In the end, Lee can't go through with the assignment and with his spunky sidekick in tow faces the vengeance of Mr. Wei's multiethnic force of submachine-gun-toting lunkheads. Orchestrated mayhem ensues in a variety of flashy locales, including a nightclub, a video arcade, a Chinatown New Year's parade, a Buddhist temple and a crowded movie theater.

Between cacophonous gun battles, the principal players pause to replace or reload their weapons while Mr. Wei's dwindling forces regroup. Finally, Mr. Wei becomes disgusted with his henchmen's bungling and summons a pair of replacement killers (Til Schweiger and Jurgen Prochnow). For title characters, the surly German duo's contribution is not only minimal, it's expendable.

Like the rest of the supporting cast, they're fast food for vultures waiting to happen. That's not to intimate that Chow (who barely speaks English) or Sorvino's parts call for subtlety, humor, passion or eloquence. Sgt. Friday and Frank were hotter together than this unlikely combo.

Of course, "The Replacement Killers" has nothing whatsoever to do with human emotion. It's about nuzzling your muzzle, cocking your trigger and spending your cartridge. Adolescents are too grown-up for this blasted nonsense.

John Woo, the director who brought Hong Kong's dynamic new cinema to these shores, is one of the film's executive producers. Unwisely he turns the camera over to Antoine Fuqua, a first-time director with a background in rap videos, most notably Coolio's "Gangsta Paradise." Surprisingly, Coolio's musical riff has more content than the movie, as well as a moral message. According to Coolio, "There are no gangstas in paradise." Wonder what the policy is when it comes to filmmakers who glorify them?

   
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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