‘Vanguard’ review: Jackie Chan’s latest action flick is a bust

The laziness of Jackie Chan’s latest fighting flick becomes obvious right away — when a secret security force called Vanguard heads to Africa to rescue an accountant’s daughter.

We cut away from London to a sun-drenched landscape, and the screen reads: “Africa.” Africa is the second-largest continent in the world and contains 54 culturally and geographically distinct countries, from Egypt to Sierra Leone. And that’s the best they could do? “Africa”?

The whole movie, called “Vanguard,” is hobbled by such scant detail. Chan runs the private organization, which is charged with protecting the accountant because he bravely refused to secure money for his clients to buy “weapons of mass destruction.” Now the man is being hunted down. Pretty dull and not much fun.

His daughter, Mi Ya (Miya Muqi), is a social-media environmentalist, who has the preposterous skill of taming and commanding wild lions in . . . Africa. Adding to the ridicule, the CGI animals look cheap and fake.

Of course, nobody watches a Jackie Chan movie for the sophisticated plots or deep characters. They come for the martial arts. But those, too, settle for being not much more than a kick in the park.

Chan is, more and more, filling the same role that Harrison Ford did in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”: offering comfort and reassurance and hopping into battles only when needed. As he’s aged, the actor’s fights have become jokier, and here every time he throws a punch he shakes his fist like a Polaroid to say “Ow!” Through his bouts, though, is something glorious and unteachable: personality.

Yang Yang, playing the romantic hero Lei Zhenyu, doesn’t have much of that. An ingenue of ass-kickery, the formidable fighter is soft as silk and smiles like he’s posing for a teenage girl’s wall poster. However, he leaves no impression. A knight in shrugging armor.

Even when the fights are decent, there is a bothersome falseness to them. During a river chase, in which boats and floating cars fared far too well on extreme rapids, Chan glides a jet ski along the edge of a waterfall. No freakin’ way. Action films defy gravity all the time, but the key is having the budget and skill to make impossibility seem real. Director Stanley Tong (“Rumble In The Bronx”) has lost it here.

Mostly in Mandarin — it’ll be subtitled for its theatrical run and dubbed in English when it comes out on VOD — “Vanguard” was the worst-performing new movie in mainland China during its week of release. A low for a national superstar like Chan.

“Vanguard” is not his worst movie, however — just one of the blandest.

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