A fictional fever-dream mystery crafted loosely from the notorious still-unsolved 1947 murder of wayward wannabe starlet Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) the tale teams two rising L.A. police detectives whose bone-crunching boxing bout give them political juice—Mr. Ice cool young Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Mr. Fire hotheaded veteran Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). Both men become embroiled in and obsessed with the sick horrific crime even as Dwight falls hard for Lee’s victimized world-weary live-in love Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson)—with Lee’s unspoken approval: he’s too busy spiraling downward into a psychotic fixation with solving the murder having previously lost his sister to foul play. But Dwight’s also led astray by the more carnal temptations of voracious Madeline Sprague (Hilary Swank) the daughter of a bizarre high-society family with her own shadowy connections to the Dahlia. Sordid subplots abound simmering and swirling as in death the Black Dahlia threatens to suck everyone into an ever-widening abyss. Not entirely an epic of miscasting the film nevertheless falls short finding performers to essay Ellroy’s compelling cast: Hartnett demonstrates more depth here than in most previous efforts but comes fathoms short of the necessary mix of drive and angst to suit the complex role. Although she physically conveys a maturity beyond her years Johansson shows none of the wounded wisdom of the novel’s Kay—her seductive ethereal air would with an ebony dye job have served her far better as the Dahlia herself a cipher who becomes in the eyes of those obsessed with her whatever they dream her to be. Conversely Kirshner delivers in that elusive spectral role but the been-around-the-block-one-too-many times faded glint in her eyes would have made her a much more involving Kay. Eckhart has the spit and polish of a political-minded cop down pat but lacks the self-destructive inner fire that fuels the façade. Swank is mostly delightful by degrees—many of her choices are intriguing occasionally outrageous and give her femme fatale needed dimensions but others are overindulged. There are certainly macabre grand guignol moments in the story that make it more akin to Sunset Boulevard than its more obvious comparison Ellroy’s own L.A. Confidential but De Palma—never known for his subtlety—handles them with such an overt determined campiness any wry irony is wrung from them. The result is more of a parody—indeed an unflattering caricature—than a modern commentary on classic noir style. Add in his ceaseless camera-swooping swipes from Hitchcock and his ongoing fixation with meaningless gore—ham-fisted homages and hemorrhaging hemoglobin to ape Ellroy’s alliterative gossip-rag riffs—that distract from the intensity of the source material and all that remains is a bloody shame.
Based on the A.J. Quinnell novel of the same name the story is set in Mexico City where kidnappings have become a business causing panic among the wealthier citizens and making bodyguards a necessity. John Creasy (Denzel Washington) an ex-CIA operative/assassin whose past has turned him into a shell of a man comes to the city to visit his old friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken)--and ends up reluctantly taking a job as a bodyguard to nine-year-old Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning) the precocious daughter of Mexican industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his American wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell). For Creasy it just a means to an end and he has little interest in getting to know Pita even though the little girl continually pesters him with personal questions. She eventually gets through however chipping away at Creasy's seemingly impenetrable exterior and opening up his wounded heart. Then just as the two bond bam! Pita is kidnapped. Although seriously wounded during the kidnapping Creasy's inner Fire has been released healing him just enough so that he can track down and kill anyone involved in with or around the kidnapping. As Creasy says "Revenge is a meal best served cold."
Washington puts in a yet another multifaceted tortured performance as ex-assassin Creasy who has a suicidal disposition and drinks excessively to help wipe out bad memories. Luckily for him Creasy is saved somewhat from a fate worse than death when he lets Pita in his heart. Here we see the easygoing Washington we know and love as he and Fanning (I Am Sam) display some genuine chemistry. Not surprising with a pixie face and infectious charm like hers. Yet when the kick-ass Washington emerges--a part the actor dishes out with chilling accuracy--the film suddenly asks you to really suspend your disbelief. Creasy is in a serious world of hurt after the abduction but because he's all fired up he becomes superhuman. That means all he has to do is slap on some gauze bandages so he come out guns a-blazin' as well as periodically soak himself in pools to--what let the blood flow out of his open wounds? Please. Maybe the film should be called Man on Fire Whose Bleeding Gunshot Wounds Won't Stop Him.
Director Tony Scott (Spy Game Top Gun) does an excellent job setting the scenes such as Creasy and Pita bonding or Creasy inflicting his particular methods of torture on his enemies and though he may not be quite as talented as his brother Ridley (Matchstick Men) he does have a specialty--he's all about the action. Man on Fire is at times very much an adrenaline ride especially when Creasy is on the warpath with fast cuts and documentary-style camerawork. Shooting entirely on location in Mexico City the director succinctly captures the city's pollution traffic and cacophony that bombards its citizens heightening the sense of panic and pandemonium at every turn. (One wonders why any wealthy person in their right mind would let their kids live there if there's a likelihood they could get kidnapped--but that's besides the point.) It's the film's plodding underwritten story that fails to keep up with the pace. Creasy has to go through a myriad of corrupt cops and corrupt lawyers (is anyone here not corrupt?) to get to the main kidnapper known only as "the Voice." To do so Creasy elicits the help of a sympathetic newspaper reporter (Rachel Ticotin) and the city's seemingly one honest cop (Giancarlo Giannini) to get information all while still bleeding from his wounds. Enough already. About two-plus hours later we finally get to the end and it's pretty anticlimactic.
The Medallion sort of reads like a recipe of other film genres: a heavy helping of buddy cop mixed with a dollop of the supernatural and a dash of the protect-the-mystical-child-with-special-powers scenario (i.e. The Golden Child). The plot isn't the reason you're sitting in the theater but you go along with it for appearances' sake. Eddie Yang (Jackie Chan) a skilled Hong Kong detective is teamed up with Interpol agent Arthur Watson (Lee Evans) a snippy control freak to catch an evil crime lord known as Snakehead (Julian Sands) who has done some nefarious deeds. Their investigation takes them to a sacred temple where Eddie ends up saving a Dalai Lama-like kid named Jai (Alex Bao) from Snakehead's clutches. The ruthless criminal wants the boy because he possesses a mystical medallion that has powers of immortality only he can control. Snakehead evenutally nabs the boy and takes him to Ireland. Det. Eddie follows the villain to Ireland where he reunites with the insecure Watson and his former flame Nicole (Claire Forlani) also an Interpol agent. Soon though Eddie gets a firsthand account the medallion's awesome force when after dying while rescuing Jai once again the boy and his pendant bring Eddie back to life transforming him into an immortal warrior with superhuman abilities. Unfortunately for him the same thing happens to Snakehead. In typical fashion Eddie and company must battle many of the bad guy's minions and then Eddie takes on Snakehead in a final otherworldly confrontation. It doesn't take the mental strength of a superhero to figure how things will turn out.
No matter how derivative The Medallion is Jackie Chan's in it so you know it's got to work on some level. This Chinese marvel who excels in acrobatics stunts and martial arts truly has the uncanny ability to take the most tired of plots and make them more palatable just by karate-chopping onto the screen with a giant smile on his face. Although the visibly aging Chan is more serious here than in recent efforts such as Shanghai Knights he still can't hide the fun factor he brings to his films. Luckily he has found a worthy comic foil in Evans (There's Something About Mary) whose bumbling antics smack of Rowan Atkinson's as Mr. Bean and who brightens up the film on more than one occasion. The only real drawback to Medallion is giving Chan a love interest. Yep our favorite martial arts boy gets to kiss the girl but almost makes us cry; unfortunately Forlani (Meet Joe Black) who holds her own with the stunts has zero chemistry with the actor as hard as she tries to make us believe Nicole really loves Eddie. When a love scene comes up you clench your teeth hoping it'll pass soon enough and get back to the action. Thankfully it does. Sorry Jackie but you should just stick to kickboxing the enemy instead of kissing the girls.
What if Chan could use his uncanny skills on a supernatural level? Just imagine the possibilities. The same thought surely must have crossed the minds of those bringing Medallion to life. The thing is does Jackie really need all those special effects to pull off what he already does so well naturally? Not really. Hong Kong director Gordon Chan (no relation) is known for his slick filmmaking style that stays true to the art of a kung-fu movie; Medallion has this spirit running through it and when Chan is fighting hand-to-hand the film is exciting. Yet once Eddie and Snakehead gain their mystical powers it suddenly lapses into Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon mode as the two foes fly through the air chase each other on top of trees and fight while dangling above ground. Ultimately these effects really don't do anything to elevate the film. In fact the camera is rather shaky the images gritty and at times it's hard to distinguish who is who. Gordon Chan should have just realized he didn't need all the highfalutin' gimmicks to make an enjoyable martial arts flick with the ever-nimble Jackie doing his stuff.