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‘Rapid Fire’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 21, 1992

In the 1970s, martial artist Bruce Lee starred in entertaining kung fu movies, the best of which was "Enter the Dragon." The stories were always the same: A drug lord, surrounded by an army of ninjas, had to be stopped. But the flimsy plots were conduits for Lee's extraordinary, balletic abilities. His aerial kicks were worthy of Baryshnikov; his high-pitched whoop suggested the battle cry of a dove. He was a sensation.

Along comes "Rapid Fire," a substandard action picture meant to introduce us to the late fighter's son, Brandon. This kid may resemble his father, and some of his moves are formidable. A back flip to avoid a bullet, and a power kick through a stairwell railing, come immediately to mind. But Brandon's no Bruce. He lacks the grace and the legendary atmosphere. As for the movie, the makers of "Casablanca" can sleep peacefully. Come to think of it, so can the makers of "Ernest Scared Stupid."

Misdirected by Dwight H. Little (still reeling perhaps from his awesome achievements in "Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers"), this movie doesn't even have the sense to let Lee fight. Hemmed in by close-in camera work, the choreography looks faked and uninspired. As for the plot, even by this genre's standards, it's below white belt, with the usual array of Uzi gunning and car exploding.

The story, set in Chicago, involves a turf battle for the international heroin market between Italian gangster Nick Mancuso and breakaway Asian partner Tzi Ma. Sensitive (and often shirtless) art student Lee is pulled into the battle when he witnesses Mancuso commit an execution.

Suddenly a strategic witness, he's hustled into an FBI safehouse. But Mancuso's people extend everywhere, and Lee finds himself on the run from practically everyone, except fashionably stubbled cop Powers Boothe and his sidekick Kate Hodge.

The movie is, of course, full of exemplary dialogue. "That's blackmail!" says Lee, when an FBI agent threatens to throw the manslaughter book at him if he doesn't go along with the feds. "That's law enforcement," hisses the agent.

Heart-stirring stuff happens late in the movie when female cop Hodge consoles Lee -- still haunted by the death of his American-agent father at the Tiananmen Square massacre:

"Your father was doing what he thought was right and he died. It happens every day. Deal with it," she says. "He died for something he believed in. You're alive, Jake. You gotta let him go."

Then they make love to the searing sound of rock music over the soundtrack. That's the kind of movie this is -- tough, yet tender. Not content to show the raw side of manly conflict, "Rapid Fire" has the guts to root out the human condition, to find that all-important pulse below the surface and still detonate as many cars as possible.

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