Jackie Chan and John Cena headline the surprise global streaming hit chock full of mediocre green screen action.
Plot: Two ex-special forces soldiers must escort a group of civilians along Baghdad’s “Highway of Death” to the safety of the Green Zone.
Review: Released last week with minimal promotion, the new action flick Hidden Strike shocked everyone by becoming the number-one movie on Netflix in the United States and over fifty other countries. It should come as no surprise that a movie starring Jackie Chan and John Cena would do as well as this. With the marketplace desperate for products due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes limiting the new content at their disposal, Hidden Strike is a surprising success story in a year where a new Indiana Jones movie became one of the biggest box office bombs ever. While Hidden Strike‘s long journey to the screen saw it shift stars from Sylvester Stallone to John Cena while relying on lots of CGI to make China look like the Middle East. The result is a film that is brainless yet still a solid timewaster. In short, this is exactly the type of action movie we have come to expect from Netflix.
Stuck in post-production for half a decade, Hidden Strike has all the hallmarks of a big-budget Chinese blockbuster. With over-the-top dialogue and melodramatic backstories for the main characters, everything about this movie looks and feels like a relic of the 1990s action movie machine where big stars were enough to warrant the price of admission. I will admit that the pairing of Chan and Cena was intriguing enough for me to watch Hidden Strike, even though they do not share a single scene until forty minutes in, where they share the most awkward game of catch in movie history. For a movie that only runs 103 minutes, spending almost half of that with Chan and Cena on their own feels like a massive waste of an opportunity. Couple that with the cliche-ridden plot, and you have trouble brewing.
The opening sets up Hidden Strike as taking place in the very near future, where Chinese conglomerate Unicorp has a monopoly over oil resources in the Middle East. Special Forces legend turned soldier-for-hire “Dragon” Luo Feng (Jackie Chan) is in charge of a convoy of buses taking scientists across the Highway of Death to a green zone in Baghdad. The convoy is hit by mercenaries, including Chris Van Horne (John Cena), also a special forces legend turned expatriate, who teams up to earn money for the small village he calls home. When Chris and Luo realize they have a common enemy in Owen Paddock (Pilou Asbaek), they join forces to save the hostages and protect Unicorp’s oil.
Hidden Strike does have the feel of Jackie Chan’s mid-90s output, like Supercop and Rumble in the Bronx, but despite the increased production values, this movie feels somehow cheaper and cheesier. Despite being billed as an action-comedy, very little of the humor in Hidden Strike is the least bit funny. Every attempt at jokes falls flat outside the great blooper reel that runs during the credits. Cena, who has shown a solid capability for comedy, plays Chris mostly straight despite a penchant for silly nicknames and singing nursery rhymes with children. Chan relies on the bumbling under-fire brand of comedy he has employed for decades, with neither actor really doing very much on their own. As a pair, the chemistry between Chan and Cena falls squarely between Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon: Chan gets along better here than he did with Owen Wilson but not as well as he did with Chris Tucker. Some of that is due to John Cena busting out his fluency in Mandarin which is used well in the film.
The direction from Scott Waugh (Need for Speed, Act of Valor) shows an aptitude for capturing action sequences and stunt-heavy setpieces, something he is bound to due in his next film, The Expendables 4. Waugh, brother of fellow action director Ric Roman Waugh, manages some decent moments amongst the ghastly CGI landscapes in virtually every scene of Hidden Strike. Set in Iraq but filmed in China, the movie’s first half is awash in computer-generated backdrops that could have been leftovers from the Star Wars prequels. When Waugh transitions into elaborately constructed sets, the action gets better even though the buildings look like they are made out of styrofoam and cheap wood. It also does not help that Hidden Strike is a mash-up of every action cliche known to man. Both main characters deal with daddy issues (one is dead, the other is the absentee father), one of the hostages is Luo’s daughter, Cena has the hots for the aforementioned daughter, the villain commands an army of faceless henchmen, and everything is set up to service a potential sequel. Plus, the film’s MacGuffin is a USB drive which results in this movie presumably holding the Guinness World Record for the most time the word “dongle” is said in a feature film.
If it weren’t for the fun that both John Cena and Jackie Chan appear to be having on-screen, Hidden Strike would be one of the worst movies in recent memory. The two actors do the best they can with subpar material. Thanks to their competing fighting styles, Chan and Cena make for a solid pair, and Waugh salvages some decent action that harkens back to Jackie Chan’s prime. Even as he approaches his 70th birthday, Jackie Chan does some stunning physical work in Hidden Strike that will make you forget just how derivative this movie is as it shamelessly copies everything from Mad Max: Fury Road to every Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, and Jackie Chan movie from the last forty years. Hidden Strike is nowhere near a good movie and barely qualifies as a mediocre one. Still, it keeps you entertained for one hour and forty-three minutes before completely evaporating from your memory. If you decide to pop this one on while doing something else, make sure you are ready to pay attention to the great bloopers at the film’s end.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/hidden-strike-review/