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Adventurers, The (2017)
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by Jay Seaver

"Chinese crime, European scenery."
3 stars

It's kind of fun to have a car chase with Shu Qi doing some reckless driving in Cannes near the start of "The Adventurers"; as big a star as she is in the China region, her biggest stab at the world audience was "The Transporter" fifteen years ago, and it's fun to have her outside the trunk for director Stephen Fung's stab at doing something like a Besson-produced medium-sized action movie, even if he's not quite enough to elevate this star-studded picture out of the time-passer category.

It starts with Dan Zhang (Andy Lau Tak-wah) being released from a French prison after serving five years for stealing "The Eye of the Forest" (once part of a priceless necklace called "Gaia" given to China as a gift, now scattered around Europe in three pieces) - from the Louvre, and though he kept his head down, Inspector Pierre Bisette (Jean Reno) confronts him at the gate and has a team follow him. It's a good call even if Dan does shake his tail; his release coincides nicely with "The Wreath of Destiny" being auctioned in Cannes, and he's already got a crew ready to help take it: Hacker Po Chen (Tony Yang Yo-Ning) and con artist/getaway driver Red Ye (Shu). And though that should be the One Last Job, both Dan's mentor "King" Kong (Eric Tsang Chi-wai) and Pierre know that the third part of "Gaia", "The Rope of Life", will be impossible to resist, so while Dan's crew figures out how to get through the state-of-the-art security that Chinese businessman Charlie Law (Sha Yi) has installed in his Czech castle, Pierre recruits Amber Li (Zhang Jingchu), an art historian now working as an insurance investigator, to help track down her former fiance.

Fung and his four co-writers bait the hook fairly well at the start, knowing immediately what makes for a good caper: The opening narration establishes something potentially bigger and more heroic than simple thievery for the crew to aspire to, if they so choose, and while the opening scene of Pierre confronting Dan at the prison gate has been done a million times before, it's a bit of a thrill to see Andy Lau and Jean Reno doing it - they're both crime-film workhorses who know just how to get a little something extra out of this sort of boilerplate, and for fans of both French and Hong Kong genre cinema, it's a thrill to seeing them playing a scene as equals after twenty-odd years of doing similar things on opposite sides of the world. Fung and his collaborators don't particularly look to reinvent the wheel here, but they have enough of a sense of what the audience enjoys about a good caper and how to serve it up well. The story stumbles in some ways - it seems like the film could get a lot more out of what happened five years ago than it does, to the point where Amber seems to be marking time until she's a hostage in the last act - but its storytelling is polished in a good way.

Surprisingly, the action is where things tend to fall a little short. The editing of that Cannes car chase with Pierre speeding after Red is not Olivier Megaton-level bad, but it feels like Fung shot a lot of car chase bits and then put them together without a lot of continuity for how close the two cars are or how many other people are on the road - it gets the rhythm right, but something will likely seem off to action/adventure fanatics. The heists are often kind of unimpressive as well; Fung stages them well enough, but there are only brief moments when it seems like the audience knows the plan will enough to worry about it going wrong, and while the high-tech gadgets are often fun, they sometimes play as too perfectly useful, no matter how enjoyable one CGI robot pooping out a couple smaller ones may be for a second or two. There's also a severe lack of genuinely nasty villains, at least in terms of screen time.

Even without a really great villain (Sha Yi's Charlie Law seems to be set up for the part, but he tops out as entertainingly crass), Fung and company have put together a fun cast. They only rarely spark, though, with Shu's Red being a lot more fun when she is playing a charming con artist who leads Charlie and Po on than the brash bad-girl thief who shoots the latter down, even if there is real delight in seeing her dive into things with gusto rather than be demure and elegant). Yang plays off her well as a naturally-smitten teammate, a lot more fun when he starts to realize that she's probably more than he can handle. There are moments when Jean Reno rises above a silly script (and an even sillier decision to have him speak English even when French would make much more sense) to show that he isn't just mailing it in even if all the producers need is an affordable European actor with international name recognition. Andy Lau is the guy at the middle, though, and he's helped even less by a bunch of English dialogue; especially since, for all the story revolves around his character, he spends most of it being a sort of generic gentleman thief, not given any sort of hook or work that makes the audience say this art thief is special. He's a talented enough guy that a few more scenes between him and Zhang Jingchu or him and Eric Tsang to flesh things out would help a lot.

Like a many of the Europacorp flicks that leap to mind when watching it, "The Adventurers" is enjoyable enough, looking nice and moving quickly, unafraid to punctuate even big action scenes with a dose of offbeat humor. It could just make much better use of a nice cast, never showing the efficiency that Luc Besson usually displays in not just setting a simple action plot up, but making it playful and more than just going through the motions, even if Fung does have the right idea.

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originally posted: 08/21/17 10:02:57
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8/21/17 Louis Blyskal Great Film 5 stars
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  18-Aug-2017 (M)

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