“Mr. Nice Guy” (1997)
by A.J. Hakari
Jackie Chan’s movies are among the few that really are as awesome as your friends describe them. It’s an absolute pleasure to see the man in action, bounding across the screen with such fluidity and using physicality that extends beyond mere right hooks to take down goons. If you catch just one of Chan’s incredible stunts, you’ll know instantly what rightfully sent your buddies into “Dude, you have to see this!” mode. Even the most generic of action projects have benefitted greatly from his presence, as was the case with the mid-’90s romp Mr. Nice Guy. If anyone else was the star here, it would be a low point in their careers, with its stock bad guys and hokey, almost nonexistent plotting. But plunk down Chan into this, and the whole joint lights up, ultimately delivering a cheesy but highly entertaining festival of flying fists and feet.
Chan stars as a celebrity named Jackie, although this character is famous for entirely different reasons. He’s one of the top TV stars in Melbourne, slinging dough and whipping up mean omelets on his own popular cooking show. Jackie’s a simple guy, but he’s dragged into a steaming pile of trouble when he literally runs into crusading reporter Diana (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick). She’s fleeing from thugs sent by Giancarlo (Richard Norton), a big-time gangster whose dirty dealings she’s managed to capture on videotape. In the ensuing chaos, the tape ends up in Jackie’s possession, making him a target not just for Giancarlo but for a rival gang of street punks looking to muscle in on his turf. But unbeknownst to these unsavory types, Jackie comes equipped with all the physical prowess he needs to get himself out of a jam. When the evildoers start going after his loved ones, he pounces into action, flipping, kicking, and clobbering his way into saving the day.
There’s no dancing around the fact that Mr. Nice Guy isn’t the most well-polished movie. The whole thing is essentially an extended chase built on the most basic premise you could come up with: Chan and company have something, and the most stereotypical villains in film history really want it. Seriously, these bad guys are like how spoofs making fun of action flicks would show bad guys, loudly talking about being evil and how much they like drugs; it’s the equivalent of sitting in a bank president’s chair and going, “Buy! Sell! Loans!” Plus, it’s disappointing how Jackie’s background as a chef is never creatively incorporated into the action. Chan is in fine, hindquarters-kicking form, but there’s no angle to really discern this dude from most of the other heroes he’s played. We get a couple lines of dialogue to explain how Jackie is such a skilled martial artist, so for most of the movie, we’re left wondering how this average schmoe can just so happen to make everyday objects into weapons of mass skull-clonking.
But I can’t stress how much Chan is the glue that ends up holding Mr. Nice Guy together. Despite one of the first scenes featuring Giancarlo burying a woman alive in a construction site, this is one of Chan’s more comical vehicles, imbued with a carefree attitude that’s reflected perfectly in the stunt work. The “He did not just do that!”-inspiring feats are in full force here, all of them pulled off with flair and expert precision. Chan leaps onto ladders, dodges spinning blades, flees from dump trucks, and crashes giant inflatable gorillas into mass motorcycle gang weddings (I said this was an awesome movie, didn’t I?). The timing is impeccable, with its star showing little hesitance in his movements and making sure that every scene — be it comedic or action-packed — is played to its full effect. It’s only during the requisite ending credit bloopers that you get an idea of how many close calls and how much abuse Chan experienced in ensuring that every stunt look just right on screen. There are a million little nitpicks to zero in on here (like the rushed subplot with Jackie’s girlfriend and the astounding amount of dubbed characters who are already speaking English), but the movie is simply too much fun for them to be that big of a bother.
Yes, Jackie Chan’s made better movies, but Mr. Nice Guy is such an outright blast, I can’t turn my nose up at it. With its mild cheese factor, lighthearted atmosphere, and flurry of amazing stunts, it’s actually an ideal introduction to the man’s résumé, making fast work of hooking you into wanting to see more. While it’s no genre giant, Mr. Nice Guy packs an exciting punch and exemplifies a lot of what made Chan one of my all-time favorite action stars.