The Forbidden Kingdom
The ’80s action fantasy may be long dead, but nobody told the folks behind The Forbidden Kingdom. Slavishly following rules laid down in such films as The Karate Kid, the film tells the story of softhearted Boston street punk and kung-fu fanatic Jason Tripitakas (Michael Angarano), who finds a magic staff and is transported to a mystical land populated by figures from Chinese mythology.
Nostalgia aside, there’s not a lot to love in The Forbidden Kingdom. Director Rob The Haunted Mansion Minkoff keeps things visually flat and uninspired. Angarano, an emotional vacuum as an actor, is a singularly unappealing lead. But this won’t make a jot of difference to the film’s target audience of pre-teens eager to catch the first on-screen pairing of legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And this, luckily, is the film’s one strength: their interaction is likeably goofy, and when the fists start flying it’s easy to forget the film’s flaws and enjoy the simple pugilistic pleasures of the Jet & Jackie show.
Death Defying Acts
Dir: Gillian Armstrong
Never more than mildly distracting, this wayward drama of romantic and psychological intrigue from the director of Charlotte Gray offers an episode in the life of Harry Houdini: a 1926 trip to Edinburgh in the difficult years following the death of his mother.
But unlike in The Prestige or The Illusionist we’re not asked to wonder at stage acts. Instead our perspective is that of mother-and-daughter tricksters Mary (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Benji McGarvie (Saoirse Ronan), who scrape a living by appearing to have psychic powers and spot an opportunity when Houdini (Guy Pearce) arrives in town offering a reward to anyone who can channel his mother’s last words. And so we’re treated to Houdini’s multiple hang-ups with his mother, fame and intimacy.
None of the cast shine, although Ronan shows promise after Atonement and Timothy Spall is passable as Houdini’s manager. Pearce never makes his Houdini seem anything more than a little troubled and Zeta Jones’s flat foil doesn’t help matters. All in all, it’s a bit of a snore that falls back on romance when all else fails.