“Heroic Duo” – A.J. Hakari

Heroic Duo manages to bring together both extremes of the action genre. To start, its overall style is pretty mundane and never really gets your blood pumping. On the other hand, its very premise is so utterly goofy, you’re left kissing your disbelief goodbye. You’d think that the two styles might work in tandem with one another, creating a more rounded action flick instead of sticking to one end or the other. Instead, the two sides of Heroic Duo cancel each other out, resulting in a film stuck in neutral and too complacent to entertain anyone.

Hard-boiled cop Ken (Ekin Cheng) is summoned to the office one day to help investigate a rather strange crime. A decorated colleague has stolen some files and set fire to the evidence safe, though he claims that not only does he not recall the theft, he was hypnotized into doing it. The officer’s subsequent suicide seems to indicate more complex forces at work, so to get to the bottom of things, Ken gets in touch with jailed psychology expert Jack Lai (Leon Lai). A master of hypnosis himself, Jack agrees to help weed out the real mastermind, only to pull a double-cross and entrance Ken into taking part in a jewel heist. But as Ken hits the road to clear his name, he begins to suspect that Jack might still be innocent, that someone else may be using his mind-controlling abilities for his or her own ill-gotten gains.

Heroic Duo really wants to succeed in spite of itself. In a genre notorious for casting physics and logic asunder in the name of a few good thrills, this Hong Kong action flick seems especially difficult to swallow. Let’s face it, the idea of a guy whose entire criminal empire hinges upon hypnosis is bound to raise more than a few eyebrows. But surprisingly enough, I had no problem accepting this premise. In fact, it gave the plot a unique spin, along with some unforeseen twists, that I hope would carry on throughout the remainder of the flick. Unfortunately, all it gave Heroic Duo was a temporary boost, as things shifted into routine action movie mode shortly thereafter. It’s no surprise, since director Benny Chan is a pro at making the least out of the stories he’s given. This is the guy responsible for slapping Jackie Chan with a baby in Robin-B-Hood, and he didn’t do a much better job with the confounding crime drama Divergence. He’s content to pepper the picture with yawn-inducing gunfights, letting the story grow more muddled and melodramatic as it goes along.

The lack of visual flair doesn’t help matters either. Keeping in line with its overall shiftless attitude, Heroic Duo is presented with a pretty flat look. Save for an opening credits sequence airlifted out of a lesser Bond film, Chan pretty much points the camera at the action and steps away. There’s not much energy or verve to these sections, regarded by Chan in the same way a ten-year-old regards taking out the garbage. It’s almost as if the movie started as a straight thriller first and got strong-armed into throwing in some gunplay. The pre-credits sequence, in which the bad guys menace a family, is much more tense than the sluggish chase scenes that soon follow. Not even the title makes sense, since Ken and Jack spend more time trying to solve problems on their own than they do as a team. But at least you can walk away from the film knowing that the actors tried to have a good time. Cheng fills the token “cop with attitude” role to a tee, but it’s Lai who emerges with the most memorable performance. Jack is a truly enigmatic character, and Lai does a good job of keeping viewers on their toes and wondering what he’s going to do next.

Hong Kong action opuses have always been more renowned for their pyrotechnics than for their plots. But Heroic Duo is what happens when neither element is up to snuff. It’s not a terrible film, but adrenaline junkies are liable to find more thrills at a dog show than with this disappointing import.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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