The gimmick is that Hong Kong action stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li team up for the first time – but is that enough to warrant such a muddled martial arts fantasy?
It all begins as a bullied teenager, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), is forced to become involved in the robbery of an elderly pawnbroker (Chan) in South Boston. As he’s fleeing from local thugs and toting a mysterious golden staff, he’s magically transported to China’s Middle Kingdom. Lost and bewildered, he’s befriended by Lu Yan (Chan), a wisecracking, perpetually drunk martial arts master who identifies Jason as the “the seeker” who is destined to fulfill the ancient prophecy and begins training him in fighting skills so that he can return the staff to its rightful owner, the immortal Monkey King (Li), who has been imprisoned by a tyrannical Warlord. Joining them on the long, arduous trek to the Jade Palace is orphaned Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei), who is determined to kill the evil Warlord, and the fearless Silent Monk (Li), who also becomes Jason’s teacher. From time to time, they’re harassed by a wicked white-tressed, whip-wielding, bounty-hunting witch (Li Bing Bing).
As Jason’s physical prowess improves, so does his self-confidence, which he’ll need when and if he can ever “return home.”
Screenwriter John Fusco and director Rob Minkoff deliver a fusion smorgasbord with a smattering of “The Wizard of Oz,” combined with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” topped with a fillip of “Rush Hour” and “The Karate Kid.” It’s generic enough to give anyone cinematic indigestion, followed by repetition-induced sleep, despite the impressive efforts of cinematographer Peter Pau and choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Forbidden Kingdom” is a tedious, butt-kicking 4, filled with cliché-ridden, chop-schlocky action.