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‘Rapid Fire’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 22, 1992

Brandon Lee may want to follow in his father's kick-steps, but unlike martial arts legend Bruce Lee, he's far too pretty for the job. Not that there's a dearth of kung fu fighting in "Rapid Fire," Brandon Lee's first starring role. It's just that while the violence looks like it's out of Soldier of Fortune magazine, Lee himself looks like he just stepped out of GQ.

It also doesn't help that "Rapid Fire" feels like patchwork genre filmmaking at its most mundane. Lee is Jake Lo, a California college hunk who shies away from politics though his dad (a CIA operative) was crushed by a tank in Tiananmen Square just three years earlier. In a typically convoluted way, Jake is drawn into the action after witnessing the murder of a Thai drug baron by a mob chief. When a witness protection program proves rife with corruption, Jake has to take matters into his own hands. And feet. And the occasional automatic weapon.

The film sets up several conflicts: A deadly turf war between Thai and Italian drug lords (Kinman Tau and Nick Mancuso, respectively) is mirrored by one between corrupt feds (led by Raymond J. Barry) and straight-arrow locals (led by grizzled Powers Boothe). Unfortunately, they all have Jake on the brain, looking either to kill or exploit the poor art school student, whose only relief is policewoman Karla Withers (Kate Hodge).

Bruce Lee's breakthrough films were zany and fists-of-fury-focused, but the new wave of martial arts adventures seems to place equal importance on firepower. There's plenty of it in "Rapid Fire," along with the inevitable chases and exploding cars. Like his father, Brandon Lee is quick enough to duck speeding bullets, and he shows a familial penchant for taking on large groups of attackers, but his acting style is flaccid in a strange Valley Boy manner. (Much the same as in his big-screen debut in "Showdown in Little Tokyo," where he was also more preppy than peppy.) Sure, he's got a few tasty moves here, but they're couched in such obvious settings that they're virtually wasted.

Dwight H. Little, who also directed Steven Seagal in "Marked for Death," has a confident grasp of genre cliches, but "Rapid Fire" is hardly the vehicle likely to turn Brandon Lee into the action-adventure hero of the '90s.

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