SUPERCOP (R) (93 min.) - Here's an idea for the Independence Day sequel: Aliens attack again, and we send Jackie Chan into outer space to kick their tentacled tails. Until then, we're content to watch the Hong Kong daredevil put his unique, good-humored violent streak to fine use in imports his countrymen have been admiring for years.
Supercop is Chan's second flick to get an American release this year, after the low-budget delight Rumble in the Bronx. This film is much more artful and ambitious, even if it crimps its star's whirlwind martial arts and stunt work a bit. Supercop makes a minor mistake in trying incorporate a story, of all things, into Chan's style. The result occasionally looks like any other stateside action movie, except the car chases are on the other side of the road.
Chan plays (he's too limited an actor to portray) Kevin Chan, an undercover Hong Kong cop with a sterling reputation who is assigned to break up a heroin smuggling ring. Or is it an arms smuggling ring? Or something to do with Swiss bank accounts? Director/fight choreographer Stanley Tong has plenty of ideas and not a clue what to do with them. His leapfrogging around Southeast Asian locations does nothing more than prove he has the budget to do it. It's easy to be distracted by the bad dubbing, where only the bad guys' maniacal laughter matches the soundtrack.
It takes a while for Chan to shift into clobbering gear, and even longer before he gets serious about it. The fight scenes are basic stuff, without the prop comedy Chan injects into his grittier work. Much of the action load falls to Michelle Khan, who steals the show with limber, lightning-fast kicks and a willingness to risk herself on stunts like a motorcycle hop onto a moving train.
Chan fans may be let down by the their hero's backseat rhythms, until a late rush of mayhem in Kuala Lumpur confirms his status as the most courageous/stupid actor in the world. If dangling from a helicopter doesn't convince you, perhaps this will: A preshow advertisement touted an upcoming movie titled Beverly Hills Ninja, starring Chan and (gulp) Chris Farley. That's what you call taking a risk.
Supercop opens today at theaters around Tampa Bay. B-
A TIME TO KILL (R) (118 min.) _ Our annual immersion into the superficial melodrama of John Grisham's novels opened Wednesday and received a so-so (actually, so-what?) review in that day's Floridian section.
The season's most hyped discovery, Matthew McConaughey, stars as Jake Brigance, a Mississippi lawyer handling the racially charged case of Carl Lee Hailey (always-solid Samuel L. Jackson), a black man who gunned down the rednecks who raped and beat his 10-year-old daughter. McConaughey does fine with his laconic/heroic role, with a stern sincerity that would escape other actors at his experience level. The fact that he's a hunk won't hinder his rise to stardom, either.
He can stand to learn a depressing lesson from last summer's "find," Sandra Bullock (While You Were Sleeping), who parlayed her sudden sweetheart status into a $6-million paycheck for an inconsequential supporting role. Bullock seems too flighty to portray a hard-driven law student who astutely aids Jake, and any romantic heat they might generate is aborted by Grisham's plot line.
Whatever high drama that may have emerged from the circumstances is lost in director Joel Schumacher's blunt-edged stylings. Whenever he feels our attention slipping on soap-opera twists, he tosses in a poorly staged confrontation between the Ku Klux Klan and Carl Lee's supporters. Compare these volatile images with the fright of Mississippi Burning, and you see how Schumacher turns crisis into cartoon.
Some fine actors are wasted and/or embarrassed by their supporting duties: Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects) is appropriately oily as a vile district attorney, but the father-and-son team of Donald and Kiefer Sutherland are all sneers and slurred language as a bigot and a drunk, respectively. Ashley Judd (Heat) finds herself locked in another woman-on-the-sidelines-worrying role as Jake's wife, after a promising debut as Ruby in Paradise three years ago.
A Time To Kill is playing at theaters around Tampa Bay. C
JOE'S APARTMENT (PG-13) (80 min.) _ First there was the Roach Motel, and now there's Joe's Apartment, in which thousands of creepy crawlers plan to sing and dance their way into your hearts.
The idea began as an acclaimed short film on MTV in 1992, when Joe (Jerry O'Connell, Stand By Me) moved to the Big Apple and watched in horror and amusement as his pest-guests delved into sex, bugs and rock 'n' roll. Writer/director John Payson continues the slacker saga with Joe needing a little help in the romance department and his insect buddies lending him six hands each.
Any movie that has Hawaiian crooner Don Ho and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn in the cast has a certain fun-trash potential. Warner Bros. didn't allow critics a chance to see if it works out, which usually isn't a good sign. Joe's Apartment opens today at theaters around Tampa Bay. _ STEVE PERSALL
THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO (G) (88 min.) _ This movie effectively undoes what Disney did so well 56 years ago: Take an old story, change it around and persuade an audience to accept it as new gospel. This live-action version gives a fresh perspective on Carlo Collodi's 1863 novel without the rewrites of the 1940 animated version.
Oscar-winner Martin Landau (Ed Wood) stars as the lonely puppetmaker Geppetto, who builds a wooden boy-toy that comes to life. Geppetto wants a son, and Pinocchio wants to be a flesh-and-blood kid, so they both pull strings to make it happen.
Udo Keir plays Lorenzini, an opportunistic puppeteer who wants to profit from Pinocchio's gift of life. Bebe Neuwirth (TV's Cheers) and ex-Saturday Night Live comic Rob Schneider are his intellectually challenged partners in punchlines.
This updated version of Collodi's tale definitely feels hipper and should appeal to a modern audience. Both Pinocchio and his wise-cracking alter-conscience (named Pepe, not Jiminy, here) are more bearable than their animated counterparts. Jonathan Taylor Thomas makes this Pinocchio more savvy and mischievous, while the sarcastic Pepe is less preachy. The story gets its point across with a minimum of moralizing and enough excitement to hold attention.
Home Improvement fans looking for Jonathan Taylor Thomas only hear him (as the voice of Pinocchio) until the final minutes of the film. By that time, seeing his cuddly face isn't necessary; The Adventures of Pinocchio has plenty of charm on its own.
Opens today at theaters around Tampa Bay. B+
_ JULIAN JABBAR HILLS