The Replacement Killers (1998)

D: Antoine Fuqua
S: Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino

Routine action thriller with an excess of mindless, uninteresting action scenes which unfortunately hopes to introduce Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat to American audiences. He plays an assassin working for a ruthless Chinese-American mobster out for revenge on cop Michael Rooker. When Chow refuses to carry out his assignment, he turns to freelance forger Mira Sorvino for a passport and thereby involves her in a series of chases and gunfights leading to a horribly predictable series of climaxes.

From its opening scene where Chow walks through a night club to pounding techno music to kill some miscellaneous thugs, it is clear that director Antoine Fuqua has been a devoted student of executive producer John Woo's earlier films. It is also clear that he has missed their point. In attempting (and failing) to replicate their superficial style, he has lost the heart of Woo's art (Face/Off), and the unmotivated, simplistic mayhem which proceeds neither advances plot nor character. It is not even very stylish, certainly not a patch on the opening to The Killer , which it emulates.

The film which follows is horribly ordinary, and its attempts to inject moments of Wooseque character development are laughable. Sorvino is so hard bitten as to seem parodic, and Chow merely stone-faces his way through what little English dialogue he is given. The action scenes come thick and fast, but none of them are any good. They eventually become boring, and the climactic confrontation is numbingly uninvolving, which makes the film utterly worthless. It has no moral meaning and does not command its audience's attention even on the most superficial level, leaving nothing at all to hold onto and no reason to watch it.

The film's only achievement is to remind audiences of how difficult it is to do what John Woo does with action films. He can deepen them without making them pretentious and can use violence to enhance and complement scripts which in other hands would seem moronic. This is exactly what this is, and The Replacement Killers is empty, silly and boring in a way that Woo himself would probably not have allowed to happen had he been at the helm himself. Disappointing for fans of the star.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.