"Jackie Chan's First Strike" features no less than the third exploding-aquarium scene in a major movie in the last six months. But you don't go to a Jackie Chan movie for originality (inventiveness, yes; originality, no), you go for fun, and this one's a hoot.
In fact, the only people I can imagine not having a ball watching this amazing athlete perform his amazing stunts are the claims adjusters for his insurance company. Every dangerous stunt you see in a Chan movie is reputedly performed by the star himself, without the aid of computer-generated special effects.
As usual, Chan plays a Hong Kong cop who gets reluctantly involved with international criminals. Jackie (the character's name) is given a routine assignment to follow a female smuggler on an airplane flight to the Ukraine. There, ground authorities will take over and Jackie can get a much-needed rest.
The plan goes awry when a military group kidnaps the suspect, and soon Jackie is caught between a renegade military strike force, the CIA, the FSB ("the new and improved KGB") and the Russian Mafia and a plan to steal nuclear weapons.
This puts our hero squarely in 007 territory, but Jackie is James Bond without the aplomb. He spends most of the movie freezing, in pain, or scared to death. When he is put up in a luxury hotel on assignment, he delights in the surroundings like a kid in a candy store.
He dispatches bad guys with a skill that would make Stallone green with envy, but in a bumbling, terrified Everyman way that is completely endearing.
There are several superb action pieces: a snowboard-snowmobile-helicopter chase down a mountainside in which a lightly dressed and freezing Chan delivers more thrills than "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and more laughs than "Hot Shots"; an amazing fight scene in which Chan uses every prop in a warehouse to fight off a crowd of ill-wishers; and the aquarium scene, far better than similar stunts in "Eraser" and "Mission: Impossible."
Chan performs all of this with the wide-eyed innocence of a silent comic. He works hard to please the audience, and his charm is irresistible.
Veteran Hong Kong action director Stanley Tong once again delivers. Though the ending here is not as spectacular as that in "Supercop," this is a more consistent and far less cheesy effort than "Rumble in the Bronx." The script is little more than serviceable, but the idea is sound.
The PG-13 rating seems harsh. Despite the high body count, the violence is not gory, there is very little profanity, and no "adult situations" (that's what they like to call them in the credits boxes). If you've got a kid who's addicted to the Power Rangers, "First Strike" might be a fun way to show him or her how martial-arts action can be staged with wit, class and imagination.