Stifler as the Chosen One?
Seann William Scott, best known as the semen-guzzling goofball in the “American Pie” movies, bites off more than he can chew as an apprentice action hero in “Bulletproof Monk,” an undercooked stew of martial-arts mumbo jumbo and buddy comedy.
The buddy here is Chow Yun-Fat, who sinks to the level of the material in yet another misuse of an Asian superstar. Chow plays a nameless Buddhist monk who inherits the safekeeping of an ancient scroll that is sought by the Nazis. (Any resemblance to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is purely fortuitous.) For reasons that are never sufficiently explained, the scroll confers 60 years of extra youth on its bearer, who must spend that time finding a worthy successor.
Six decades later, the monk’s travels take him to urban America, where he meets a good-hearted pickpocket named Kar (Scott). Kar lives above a chop-socky cinema, where he is the projectionist and imitates every action sequence. When Kar defends himself against a rival gang of thieves, the monk decides to teach him the higher precepts of the martial arts.
The fortune-cookie philosophizing is an insult to Buddhism, and the wire choreography of the preposterous training sequences is an insult to Chow’s natural abilities. By the time the master and the pupil duke it out with an ancient Nazi (Karel Roden in a “Dr. Strangelove” wheelchair), his faux-peacenik niece (Victoria Smurfit) and a Russian Mafia princess (Jaime King), the insults have pretty much covered the planet. But ground zero for this catastrophe is Hollywood, where somebody thought Scott had star power. The actor is funny in movies where he plays an arrogant idiot or benevolent stoner. But instead of emphasizing his cartoonish cluelessness, “Bulletproof Monk” subordinates humor to heroism. And the plot, in the hands of rookie director Paul Hunter, is too tangled in loose ends to sustain our interest between pratfalls.
It’s a sure sign that a movie is betting heavily on foreign box office when the jokes are as stripped of cultural specificity as the filmed-in-Toronto locales. Unfortunately, Chow’s international fan base will be as disappointed as Scott’s domestic one. The star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” affects a tongue-in-cheek wisdom that his iffy English can’t convey.
On paper, “Bulletproof Monk” has potential, but on celluloid it’s riddled with holes.