Shanghai Noon

At their worst, Jackie Chan movies are all about settings and props. Cast Chan as a famous TV chef (in Mr. Nice Guy), and he can do battle using cutlery. Cast Chan as an accountant, and he could probably use a ledger. Shanghai Noon, which places Chan in an Old West conveniently overrun with mounted antlers and badges that double as throwing stars, would probably have been that sort of Chan movie if it weren't for the inspired decision to pair the Hong Kong superstar with Owen Wilson. In a 19th-century variation on his Bottle Rocket role, Wilson plays a good-natured, unskilled criminal who inadvertently partners with Chan, a Chinese imperial guard sent to retrieve a stray princess (Lucy Liu) held hostage by an evil railroad baron. Though less distinguished and more ramshackle than the conceptually similar Rush Hour, it easily coasts on the chemistry between its leads and some well-staged action setpieces. It's a good thing, too, because it sure doesn't have much else going for it. First-time director Tom Dey shows a promising sense of visual style, but the script by Miles Millar and Alfred Gough could be the product of a particularly fruitful Mad Libs session. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why the dialogue improves substantially in Wilson's numerous scenes, as the sometime screenwriter's comic improvisations prove much more fruitful than in The Haunting or Armageddon. Like Chan, Wilson is a natural comedian, and it's a pleasure to watch them play off one another, even if it's in a film that doesn't quite deserve either. With them, however, Shanghai Noon is better than the sum of its props.

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