Stephen Chow is a rare breed on the filmmaking scene. With such cult hits as “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle,” Chow has amassed a library of heavily-augmented slapstick smashes, each stranger than the next. Perhaps weary of making silly stuff for older crowds, the multi-faceted moviemaking machine turns his attention to the family mob with the cute, zany, and extremely bizarre sci-fi comedy, “CJ7.”A poor construction worker, Chow Ti (Stephen Chow) is unable to properly provide for his nine-year-old son Dicky (Xu Jiao, a marvelous Chaplinesque child performer), instead working long, punishing hours just to put the boy through private school, where he’s the constant target of bullies. While sifting through the garbage for shoes, Chow comes across an otherworldly green orb and presents the interesting find to Dicky as a toy. When the ball morphs into a tiny furry alien with an elastic emerald body, Dicky befriends the creature, hoping his new pet will make him a star at school. However, this creature, nicknamed CJ7, reveals itself to be a problematic companion with peculiar powers Dicky is ill-equipped to handle.
"Stephen Chow bangin' one out for the kids"
Swallowing Spielberg pills, Chow’s “CJ7” is the director’s shot at an everlasting sci-fi fantasy fable, while endeavoring to create a cute alien saga for the whole family. When I write that the film is eccentric, that’s not doing the oddities on display here justice. “CJ7” is downright insane at times.
Chow loves his comedic exaggerations, and for good reason: he executes silly with dazzling skill. “CJ7” might be a minutely less aggressive production from Chow, but that doesn’t make it any less unreal or hilarious. Dicky and CJ7’s adventures are the centerpiece of the movie, and they vibrate with a broad slapstick invention. Chow is more than happy to play the adorable card for the doe-eyed, green-bodied alien, but his best stuff is unleashed in Dicky’s imagination, where CJ7 thrashes enraged dogs, constructs special shoes that help the boy excel at every sport, and assists in classroom cheating.
The reality of the beast is less enchanting, and I adored how Chow essentially treats CJ7 as a rubber ball, tossed around with little interest for the alien’s well being. It keeps the drippy, cutesy qualities down to a dull roar, and permits the material a firm bite that’s typically absent from the family film genre. Chow likes to keep the mood of the movie lighthearted, often fantastical (a few of Dicky’s schoolmates are played by grown men in wigs, and they enjoy inexplicable martial-art showdowns), but never bows to saccharine inclinations. It’s pleasing to see Chow firing off absolutely insane ideas on purpose, the finest being the young boy Dicky, who’s played with graceful comic spitfire by a young actress.
Because every film Chow composes eventually implodes, “CJ7” takes a strong left turn in the final act, where the alien’s regenerative powers are put to the ultimate test. The laughs take a breather here, replaced by intense crying fits and an unbearably dark tone that cripples the movie, blindsiding the viewer with a shovel-to-the-face smack of despair. Chow recovers with a spirited finale, but if there was ever a movie made with a built in bathroom break, it’s “CJ7;” duck out at 70-minute mark and thank me later. Chow’s shot at sentimentality is commendable, but executed ludicrously.A nutty fable punctuated with bouts of inspired slapstick, “CJ7” falls perfectly into formation with Stephen Chow’s previous accomplishments, permitting kids a chance to drink in the comedic legend’s crisp timing and predilection for the stranger moments of performance. Of course, it all deteriorates near the end, but it wouldn’t be a Stephen Chow movie if it didn’t contain a few unsightly errors in filmmaking judgment.
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originally posted: 08/02/08 04:36:24