2 ½ stars
Jackie Chan and John Cena made a movie together called Hidden Strike. It was “released” on Netflix on July 28.
And if I hadn’t been bored and scrolling through my Netflix page looking for something to watch, I never would have known about it. That’s weird. Not because of the current trend of the various streaming services gobbling up as much content as they can to rebrand to sell to subscribers as “new.” I’m getting used to that (sort of). It’s the fact that it was a John Cena and Jackie Chan film. Cena, with a hit series (Peacemaker), a couple of blockbusters under his belt (Suicide Squad and a couple of Fast and Furious films), not to mention legions of fans from the WWE, has a healthy fan base to draw upon And Chan, well, he’s a legend. Sure, he’s looking a bit older these days (Chan is 69), and his stunts aren’t always as eye-popping as they used to be, but he’s still Jackie Freakin Chan.
Now I feel old.
A lot of action stars have stretched their careers long past their shelf date, releasing what used to be called “direct-to-video” movies, usually movies that were quickly and cheaply churned out and then stocked on the shelves of video stores around the world, Jean-Claud Van Damme and Steven Seagal are probably the best examples of old school action heroes who successfully switched from theaters to living rooms. Chan has his share of direct-to-video films tucked away among the 148 credits (and counting) on his IMDB.com page. He made many films specifically for theatrical release in the Asian film market, so it makes sense when those films turn up on Netflix. But a lot of his movies, especially the ones where he gets teamed up with the producers, consider a marketable co-star like Pierce Brosnan (The Foreigner), Owen Wilson (Shanghai Knights), and even Johnny Knoxville (Skiptrace), made it to American movie theaters. Cena is as bankable as any of these other guys, especially to today’s audience.
So why did Hidden Strike get dumped onto Netflix? It looks good enough for theaters in the trailer. But as any film fan can tell you, trailers often lie.
To borrow the film’s one-sentence synopsis from the film’s official website on XYZ films, Hidden Strike is the story of two ex-special forces soldiers who must escort a group of civilians along Baghdad’s “Highway of Death” to the safety of the Green Zone. Snnnzzz… That could describe a dozen other action films online these days: It completely ignores what separates Hidden Strike from those other films, namely Chan and Cena. So set aside the generic recap and concentrate on the real reason to watch Hidden Strike.
Chan and Cena don’t generate much chemistry as a team. There are a few funny exchanges, but they mostly feel uncomfortable with each other. That works as far as the film’s beginning, where their characters aren’t supposed to trust each other, but it’s a stumbling block when they are supposed to warm up to each other enough to fight the bad guys. The fight scenes are much better, with director Scott Waugh (Need for Speed) and his stunt team showcasing what each star is best known for: Chan does martial arts while Cena makes wrestling moves. It’s hard to focus too much on their styles because Waugh also fills his film with lots of cheap-looking green screen explosions and car crashes. It’s entertaining but distracting. If you’re watching Cena driving for his life away from the bad guys, you shouldn’t be looking out his window and noticing how fake the scenery looks.
It would have been laughable to see it in a theater.
Still, two terrific scenes in Hidden Strike would look great on the big screen. The first is the fight between Chan and Cena, which lasts about 10 minutes. It’s a fun mix of fists and fooling around, where both get a chance to shine. The second is classic Chan, a one-on-one battle between Chan and the lead bad guy in a warehouse filled with foam from a busted fire suppression system. It’s a high-flying fight, thanks to some bungee cords that just happen to be there, with plenty of punches, kicks, throws, and slapstick action to make any fan of the action star very happy. Those scenes would look great on a big screen.
These days, though, two strong scenes aren’t enough to get an audience to cough up at the box office, so that’s probably why Hidden Strike debuted on my laptop. And that’s fine.