Skiptrace: Not as much fun as it should be

Skiptrace is an action comedy, but you wouldn’t know when a rather serious opening scene shows Bennie Chan (Jackie Chan, playing an aging detective) failing to stop his partner from exploding underwater. Director Renny Harlin seems to have thought it would be touching, but it almost ends up seeming tragicomic. Soon though, the promised Chan show begins with the sort of prop fighting he has become famous for — no, scratch that — he has made famous. From barrels to industrial machinery and of course, ladders, every object in the vicinity is his to wield against the enemy in the entertainingly goofy fashion that is uniquely his. But you realise Skiptrace isn’t just his film when a lengthy, rather dull flashback, introduces a conman, Connor Watts (Johnny Knoxville), who Bennie is tasked with bringing back to Hong Kong. Skiptrace then turns into The Adventures of Bennie and Connor, as despite the best efforts of the latter, they are forced to stick together and negotiate much peril, including those that come in the form of Chinese immigration officers and angry Mongolian herders. They pass deserts, almost drown through rivers … You could almost turn this into a love story. Renny even shows them waking up one morning in a cave, locked in an embrace that they are both embarrassed about.

Much of what happens in Skiptrace appears manufactured; the dialogues are no exception. One of the thugs, in attempting to intimidate a woman, takes a pause, and then ends up with the underwhelming, “I’ll be keeping my eye on you.” Connor, when making advances on a woman he meets in the evening, asks, “Wanna eat breakfast?” You get it? He means breakfast the following morning after spending that night together. The woman, on behalf of the entire audience, looks unimpressed.

Genre: Action comedy
Director: Renny Harlin
Cast: Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bingbing
Storyline: A Hong Kong detective must team up with a conman to rescue his god-daughter
Yet, so long as the fights keep coming, Skiptrace doesn’t quite seem like the worst way to spend your time. And they do, including one brawl that happens in muddy water that I thought could have been milked better, and the other that has Bennie stuck in a barrel. The film, however, seems wary of being the cheap buddy comedy that it is, and so, tries to turn on the feels, every now and then. There’s a bit about Benny’s watch, that he carries in remembrance of a promise he made his partner. There’s the underlying, apparently deep idea of Bennie losing a partner, and gaining another through the course of the film. There’s even a scene in which Connor almost wells up while telling Bennie about never knowing his parents. It’s perhaps the least affecting emotional scene I’ve seen in a while.

It’s when the film wears its cheap humour with pride that it works. Like the scene that has Bennie clinging to Connor as they zipline over a gaping void. After slipping down Connor quite a bit, a defiant Bennie says, “Hey, there’s nothing else to hang on to.” The best part of the film for me was when a drunk Bennie indulges in a mediocre rendition of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’, and the Mongolian herders join in. Before you know it, it snowballs into a full-fledged performance. The scene has no bearing on the film, but it doesn’t matter. So long as there’s fun in the nonsense, the film doesn’t have to make sense.

This review was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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