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Mission Milano
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by Jay Seaver

"The jokes are there, but not nearly enough work."
2 stars

Wong Jing has made a truly staggering number of movies, pumping them out at such a rate that I can't tell whether the fact that the three I've seen most recently are disappointing is indicative of a trend or just bad luck. That number, unfortunately, includes "Mission Milano", a spy spoof that never manages to show the sort of energy that an anything-goes script and a likable cast needs.

Swiss scientist Dr. Petersen (Xu Yazhou) has developed "The Seed of God", which can grow into any plant with just the smallest bit of soil and water, potentially ending famine forever. Interpol dispatches Agent 119, Hung Sampan (Andy Lau Tak-wah), to monitor the demonstration at Haotian Technology, a firm run by Louis Luo (Huang Xiaoming), the descendant of a family of robin-hood thieves that went straight in the last generation. Petersen is kidnapped by Crescent, a Japanese criminal organization headed by Snow (Xu Dongdong), with the intent to sell his invention to K-Max, another group that sees great potential to use it for the cultivation of cocaine. Interpol recruits Luo, his sister Ka-yan (Nana Ou-yang), and his friend Amon (Wong Cho-lam) to help in the case, and, intriguingly, when they run afoul of K-Max's Iron Hawk (Wu Yie), Cresent agent Phoenix (Michelle Hu Ran) secretly saves Louis's life.

Wong gives a hint of the best possible version of this movie in the opening, where Sampan survives an assassination attempt in Paris, and the backdrop is so obviously fake that the other ridiculous bits in it seem only natural, but the thing is, it's not all absurd - it makes a bathtub a fun part of a zippy action sequence that is both exciting and funny. Wong and action director Dion Lam Dik-on handle fight scenes well most of the time, even if Lau clearly doesn't seem to be able to match his younger co-stars. Wong's fondness for CGI-enhanced slapstick combines with a clear fondness for the more over-the-top James Bond adventures to give the audience sonic weapons, moments of genuine amazement when watching the Seed do its thing, and other amusingly goofy bits. It's a strong first twenty minutes or half hour.

After that, though, it's like Wong has a bunch of ideas but, maybe because he's working so fast, he can't figure out which ones should breathe and which ones should be in and out. There's a sequence in the middle where the guys have to seduce Crescent's chief scientist Sophia that is built around five different dumb-but-not-funny things that would be excruciating if Sophia were not played by Xie Yilin, who digs into silly material and chews until her part, at least, is getting laughs. But for giving the film its title, the stopover in Milan is short and not especially distinctive, and the subplots which could maybe give the movie some interest (Louis having a crush on Phoenix and seeing Sampan as a father-figure, while Sampan pines for his ex-wife) feel like Wong trying to be sincere but not hard enough to make it work in a way that pulls things together when the jokes aren't landing.

That the cast often can't get the jokes to land is kind of surprising. Andy Lau is the big disappointment; usually effortlessly charismatic and able to connect with the audience like an old friend when a movie engages in self-parody, he seems to have little sense of a character here, kind of playing Sampan as a sort of screw-up with unearned confidence but not egregiously or lovably enough for the audience to get a sense of the guy (he's no Don Adams, whether you think this movie pulls more from Get Smart or Inspector Gadget), although he is sneakily charming during the more I understated scenes where he comes off as a surrogate dad or when Sampan finally gets his wife on the phone. Huang Xiaoming has a character in Louis who isn't sketched much better, but he comes across as more energetically entertaining because he's active enough and generally pinned in the same direction. The rest of the cast has amusing enough moments, although there sometimes seem to be too many folks running around - Louis doesn't really need two sidekicks, for instance.

I'd be lying to say that "Mission Milano" doesn't have its moments; based upon this and the "From Vegas to Macau" movies, Wong Jing may sometimes seem to stumble onto funny bits rather than create them these days, but some of the ones he finds are pretty good (including a couple of cheerfully crude bits that wouldn't land so well in a movie coming from anywhere but Hong Kong). He just needs to either find a lot more of them, or make the ones he has work better.

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originally posted: 10/11/16 09:42:33
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  29-Sep-2016 (M)

Directed by
  Jing Wong

Written by
  Jing Wong

  Andy Lau
  Xiaoming Huang
  Michelle Hu
  Cho-lam Wong
  Yilin Xie

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