“There is a plan. They just don’t know what it is,” goes the tagline for Jackie Chan and John Cena’s Hidden Strike, and it sounds catchy enough – until you realise just how close it comes to describing the movie unfolding on the silver screen.
The Chinese-American action-thriller inherits the same brand of buddy cop feel that main lead Chan is famous for, and marries it with deft displays of fighting choreography to deliver an entertaining watch. It’s good fun, but the lack of an engaging everything-else makes it difficult for audiences to fully immerse in the playful energy.
Hailing from Need for Speed director Scott Waugh, the film follows two ex-special forces soldiers tasked with escorting a group of civilians along Baghdad’s “Highway of Death”, one of the world’s most dangerous roadways, to the safety of the Green Zone. Chan plays Luo Feng, a military officer turned private security contractor who joins forces with former Marine Chris Van Horne (Cena) after finding out that an attack on a Chinese-owned oil refinery is part of a larger scheme to steal the oil.
As with many alliances of such nature, the pair doesn’t immediately get off on the right foot. Van Horne, being part of the team that hijacked two buses from Luo Feng’s convoy on the Highway of Death, finds himself at odds with the latter, and engaged in skirmishes initiated by his Chinese counterpart. A common enemy, however, prompts them to strike up an unlikely partnership, and these instances of teamwork and interaction are easily the best parts of Hidden Strike.
On-screen, Cena and Chan charm with their easy chemistry. The casual banter between their characters is often amusing, and the miscommunication brought on by language differences accurately reflects the kind of good-natured exasperation and struggle that comes with speaking, learning, or knowing a foreign tongue in the real world. For the most part, the bilingual jokes – Cena, who speaks Mandarin in real life, does so at certain points – are effective in drawing out a few chuckles, and each actor’s delivery certainly adds to the humorous effect. It’s nice, too, to see Chan back in his element, pulling off one slapstick acrobatic stunt after another.
Past the comedy, Van Horne and Luo Feng learn more about the other during moments of downtime, finding common ground in navigating regrets and similar lived experiences. This electric synergy also carries over to tag-teaming in action-heavy set pieces that combine vehicular chases, close-quarter fistfighting, and shootouts. Combat sequences make for an enjoyable affair, while the gunfire invites some added tension and excitement. The previously mentioned hijack scene, with its Mad Max-esque choreography, would be the standout here.
Take action, humour, and the Chan-Cena chemistry out of the equation, however, and Hidden Strike doesn’t have much else to offer. It’s popcorn entertainment through and through, weaved together by a threadbare narrative. The story isn’t anything to write home about, with a very straightforward presentation of events that unfolds in a predictable, straightforward manner. At times, the plot tries to do more, but it only comes across as unnecessarily convoluted, under-developed or forced.
The exploration of family dynamics, for instance, falls flat. Both Van Horne and Luo Feng have their own family issues, and even though Hidden Strike does tackle and build on the latter’s relationship with his daughter, the attempt feels a little half-hearted. In Van Horne’s case, his familial situation is a more of a passing mention, which makes it difficult to empathise with his plight at certain points in the story.
Apart from the main duo, there are also hardly any interesting characters. Everyone else, including antagonist Owen Paddock (Pilou Asbaek), are flat and uninspiring, easily forgotten as the story progresses.
As an action-thriller, Hidden Strike’s greatest offender takes the form of shoddy CGI. Even in the trailer, the visual effects are a little rough around the edges, and it’s disappointing to see the lack of polish in the actual film. Explosions, meant to bring more oomph to the action, don’t quite pack the same punch with their poorly rendered effects, and the artificial nature of its futuristic-looking setting is prominent in the way it doesn’t blend in nicely with the natural environment.
Still, Hidden Strike promises an entertaining and fun time. The engaging, playful dynamics between Chan and Cena is the primary driving force behind that, but it’s also easy to enjoy the comedy and action sequences. It’s a rare East-West collaboration that works well enough, even with all of its misgivings, so long as expectations are kept to the minimum. Oh, and the thinking too.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Come for the action, stay for the delightful chemistry between Chan and Cena – but not much else. While Hidden Strike has its fair share of charm, it’s ultimately a forgettable jaunt that serves as sheer popcorn entertainment, and will likely become a distant memory a few months down the road.
Story - 5/10
Direction - 6.5/10
Characterisation - 6.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 6.5/10