Our friends Vin Diesel and The Rock have proven that to take away an action star’s accumulated machismo and sheer badassery in a mere instant, all you have to do is throw a kid in his arms. Such is the situation that martial arts legend Jackie Chan finds himself saddled with in the Hong Kong-bred action/comedy Robin-B-Hood. Granted, Chan’s films have always been of a more gentle variety than the likes of Stallone or Schwarzenegger, designed more to show off his physical prowess than to show how many bad guys he can blast away in a two-hour span. But even still, what Robin-B-Hood does to him is like neutering Mickey Mouse — and coming from a guy who honest to God liked The Tuxedo, that’s saying something.
In a bit of a departure from his usual role as ye olde good guy, Chan plays a lovable thief named Thongs. Although he and his partner Octopus (Louis Koo) are pros on the job, their personal lives couldn’t be any more screwed up, what with Thongs racking up gambling debts faster than he can pay them and Octopus wooing virtually every lady but his own pregnant girlfriend. One day, some levity arrives in the form of an assignment that will result in a massive payday. But on the night of the big heist, the guys are shocked to learn that their quarry isn’t jewelry or cash, but rather a baby boy, the newborn son of a high-profile businessman. After a series of events lands their leader in jail, Thongs and Octopus are stuck caring for the kid until he’s released, although as time goes on, the guys start to get second thoughts, going from kidnappers to protectors as they start fending off the fiends who want to steal the tyke at all costs.
I really don’t know where to begin in describing the ways in which Robin-B-Hood goes phenomenally wrong. For one, being an action/comedy, the film serves up the lamest of the lame when it comes to fulfilling the obligations of both genres. There are a few instances in which Chan’s trademark brand of comedic stuntwork is in full force, especially in a rousing opening scene that contains an amusing bit where he jumps between restroom stalls to avoid being caught by the cops. But just as in Rush Hour 3, Chan’s advanced age translates into him not being able to be as nimble and daring as he used to be, a sad fact that shows in the progressively uninspired action sequences throughout the rest of the feature. But it’s possible that the action suffers because at the same time, Robin-B-Hood is trying to come across as a goofball comedy, only its stream of jokes and gags are even more painful to watch. Viewers get the typical baby-oriented set pieces, which range from the kidnapped newborn sucking on Chan’s nipple (!) to way too many people getting clobbered with dirty diapers. Aside from these, though, we get an endless array of tired jokes that include, of all things, Brokeback Mountain references, which got played out before that movie even hit theaters.
In any case, Robin-B-Hood’s sense of humor is a source of embarrassment for everyone involved, and I’d normally say that Chan is blameless for this crime — if he hadn’t had a hand in writing the script himself. Speaking of the script, this is no standard case of a mediocre action movie. Robin-B-Hood is a melodramatic juggernaut of nightmarish proportions, having a way of seriously over-complicating itself that almost has to be seen to be believed. What could have been a somewhat campy but otherwise breezy little flick is transformed into a veritable monster that spans, for its thin premise, an ungodly two hours plus. The filmmakers obviously think the world of the characters, dedicating a disturbing amount of time to following Thongs’s trouble with loan sharks, his iffy family relations, his relationship with a woman who pops into the story as quickly as she disappears into thin air…and I haven’t even mentioned the many chips on Koo’s shoulders. The hijinks reach a fever pitch in the painfully drawn-out climax, which puts a dramatic twist onto who wants the baby and what for, leading to a painfully corny final scene that throws even the teensiest hopes of redemption to the hounds.
Robin-B-Hood at least has the sheer likability of Chan and a couple nifty examples of stuntwork to fall back on. But using these as crutches with a script as weak and overdone as the one Robin-B-Hood possesses is like trying to balance Rosie O’Donnell on a toothpick, proving that when the mighty fall, the impact ain’t gonna be pretty.