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Film review: Rumble in the Bronx

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Asian superstar Jackie Chan's newest film, "Rumble in the Bronx," is a bit darker than most and, in terms of plot, has obviously been Americanized (right down to shooting in Vancouver, which substitutes for New York).

But it's so much more action-packed than the average U.S. thriller that moviegoers unfamiliar with the martial-arts comic will likely be blown away, though Chan fans may feel it's not quite up there with his best work - "Armour of God," "Supercop," "Drunken Master 2". . . .

No matter. Even purists who cringe at the thought of a film being dubbed instead of subtitled, and who recognize that setting the film in New York is an obvious commercial ploy to win over American moviegoers, will get a charge out of the gags, stunts and action that fill the screen.

Chan plays Keung, a Chinese cop on vacation, a tourist visiting his Uncle Bill (Bill Tung), owner of a Bronx grocery store. As it happens, however, Uncle Bill is heading out on an extended vacation of his own, selling his shop after 20 years to a woman named Elaine (charming Asian singer-actress Anita Mui, Chan's co-star in "Drunken Master 2").

Keung stays on to help the new owner settle in, strikes up a relationship with her, and before long he's fighting a vicious local motorcycle gang that demands protection money.

A subplot has Keung befriending a young boy who is confined to a wheelchair and whose older sister, Nancy (Francoise Yip) just happens to be a member of the gang (as well as an exotic dancer in a local club).

Then, another plot kicks into gear when a dopey biker steals diamonds from a mobster and hides them in the boy's wheelchair pad. It isn't long before Nancy comes around, recruits the bikers and they join Keung to go after the diamond-smuggling mobsters.

The bad guys here are really bad, and it may be somewhat shocking for American audiences to see one of them beat up on a kid in a wheelchair and slug a woman. But it justifies Keung's rage in traditional vigilante-movie style.

OK, the story is wheezy and the plotting pedestrian - and the Vancouver locations show snowcapped mountains in the Bronx!

But there's one enormous saving grace: Jackie Chan.

The emphasis here is on impossible stunts and hilarious gags. When one of the bad guys says, "I can't believe this guy," the audience will likely agree.

There are two big set-pieces, one that has the motorcycle gang destroying the grocery store and the lengthy climax, in which Chan takes a hovercraft from the ocean to the beach to the streets of New York. (Remember "Goldeneye," as James Bond took a tank to the streets of St. Petersburg? That was child's play compared to this.)

The funniest sequence, however, has Chan using stolen appliances, skis, pinball machines, etc., in the bikers' lair to dodge their various weaponry. It's as good as anything Chaplin or Lloyd ever choreographed.

Chan may be in his 40s now, but he has lost none of his taste for carefully crafted, eye-popping stunts, punctuated with slapstick comedy. And the usual outtakes conclude the film, including shots of Chan with one leg in a cast, the result of an injury on the hovercraft. (He directed part of the sequence from a wheelchair.)

If "Rumble in the Bronx" doesn't bring Chan that American audience that has eluded him for two decades now, there's no hope.

If it does, Chan's fans can rejoice, because more will be head-ed our way.

"Rumble in the Bronx" is rated R for violence and profanity and a shot of a mooning villain. But it's a very soft R in comparison to the average American action picture.