Hidden Strike is a movie that stars Jackie Chan and John Cena. I’ll repeat, there is an action movie starring legendary action star Jackie Chan and the Doctor of Thuganomics himself, John Cena. You can be forgiven for not knowing it exists, mainly because it is on Netflix.
Netflix loves movies so much that it’ll make a movie with one of the world’s biggest action stars of all time, have it be number one on the site, and seemingly bury it so no one watches it. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
Studios and streaming services suck. Support the writers and actors on strike.
It doesn’t help that Scott Waugh’s Hidden Strike isn’t all that good, either. Made in China, it lacks polish and feels dirt cheap despite the money spent on it. Much of this comes from the MCU amounts of CGI used. It’s a bracing reminder of how easily it is to use this kind of technology badly. I don’t often focus on special effects simply because if the movie is good enough, it can transcend it or, depending on the film, can even bring a certain charm.
Hidden Strike, however, is just plain ugly to look at. Sloppily edited and at times bordering on being an eye-sore, it is the ugliest movie I’ve seen this year.
What’s more, it spends far too much time trying to set things up and far too little time getting to what we all paid for, seeing Jackie Chan And John Cena kick butt.
Arash Amel’s script takes some forty minutes to get to the point. He wastes precious time with Iraqui oil factories and needless backstories. For one, the script wastes time on character work that turns out to be pointless because the movie never bothers to explore any of it. But, two, because the action stars involved come with a built-in character starter set that makes all the work redundant. Hidden Strike also has a depressingly weak villain reveal.
It’s so bad I spent much of the movie convinced they would do a double twist to reveal the actual bad guy, only to realize, nope, it really is that one dude.
Worse, it spends those forty minutes trying to paint Chan and Cena’s tortured past to explain their present existence. But by the end, Waugh has wisely dropped all of this and let his star’s natural charisma overtake Amel’s attempt at the stereotypical machismo. Hidden Strike could have started with Chan hunting down Cena’s character, and I would have been fine. The exposition and set-up are fundamentally useless considering how little any of it has to do with essentially Chan and Cena trying to stop an oil heist-and not a particularly clever one at that.
There’s a brief attempt to be political, with one of the characters essentially saying how everyone comes to Iraq to steal. Though someone responds that China came to buy. Still, there’s a funny bit where Chan asks Cena which oil company was behind the kidnapping and points to a corporate logo asking, “This one?” Cena points to a different logo and says, “No, that one.”
Despite the sometimes cleverness, the kidnapping of the oil refinery workers and the attempt at world-building is so toneless and murky that it hardly matters in the broader scheme of things. To Cena’s credit, he lets his persona shine through almost immediately. Part of Cena’s charm is his commitment to the bit that he’s honed in his years as a professional wrestler. His chatter gives life to Amel’s paltry script and injects a much-needed sense of humor. In one instance, Chan looks at Cena through a sniper scope during a sandstorm, and Cena does a head cock that, if it were any other actor, would have come off as cheezy. Instead, it had me howling and clapping.
Cena plays Chris, an ex-special Ops turned private security-turned mercenary living in Iraq. His little brother Henry (Amadeus Serafini) asks Chris to join him for-wait for it-one last job. I’m a sucker for “one last job” movies, I really am, but Waugh and Amel never make it feel like there were several other jobs.
Amel spends a useless amount of time showing Chan’s Luo Feng, or as he’s known to everyone else, Dragon Luo, as an emotionally distant absentee father trying to reconnect with his grown daughter Mei (Chunrui Ma). I love Jackie, but the one character not in his wheelhouse is the stoic, macho badass. Hidden Strike has him doing this schtick for far too long before Chan and Waugh finally drop the act and remember that Jackie Chan is, above all, one of cinema’s great clowns.
The Buster Keaton of our times, Chan is a master of physical comedy and action. And once Amel’s script finally gets over itself and gets Chan and Cena together, and they drop all the silly self-serious tragic backstory stuff, Hidden Strike is a joy to behold. Well, somewhat; the CGI is atrocious and can be genuinely distracting in how ugly it looks. But for every scene that had me going, “None of these people were on set at the same time for this scene, there were scenes of Chan and Cena riffing that had me giggling.
Scenes like the one where Chan and Cena accidentally pull the pin from a grenade and play it off like a show of macho force, forcing the bad guy to back away. But once he leaves, they drop the act and attempt to place the pin as quickly and gingerly as possible.
But for every moment Chan and Cena attempt to salvage Waugh’s wet blanket of a movie, there are five scenes of atrocious effects or weird sexualization. I say weird because the tone of Hidden Strike is so lacking that when they try to introduce sex into the mix, it feels out of place. It doesn’t help that it comes in the form of Cena talking about how hot Mei is. Most of it is just Cena talking, frat-boy style; her lack of response, presence, or engagement makes it seem weird and creepy.
There’s too much fat to Amel’s script and not enough visual verve to Waugh’s direction. Granted, Tony Cheung’s acrobatic camera attempts to bring a kinetic pace to Hidden Strike. Except for all the VFX and CGI, the images in Hidden Strike have little to no bite to them. However, the fight scenes with Chan, albeit slower than his vintage action sequences, still retain a physical immediacy that seems at odds with the rest of the film.
Despite being almost seventy, Jackie still has it. He parkours up walls and does stunts that left me clapping like a kid. In these moments-and others with Cena, Hidden Strike shows a glimmer of what it could have been without all the narrative fat. Between Chan’s almost gravity-defying cinematic antics and Cena’s Schwarzanegger-lite demonstrations of brute strength, a strange alchemy of charm-laden bravado action explodes onto the screen.
Towards the end, after Hidden Strike has dropped its pretenses, there’s a spark of a movie that could have been. Sadly, despite how much fun it ultimately became, the first hour of drudgery kills any momentum it could have had.
It’s tempting to look at Hidden Strike as a Tango & Cash of this year. It’s not good in any way, shape, or form, but it is fun sometimes. When the movie stops messing around and embraces the fact that it’s an expensive, cheap-looking action film starring Jackie Chan and John Cena, it’s a Channel 62 classic. But Tango & Cash, while not good and utterly disposable, is bad in the kind of way that doesn’t feel as if it’s sucking the oxygen out of the art form.
Nor is it bad in the way that, say, Firecracker is bad. Firecracker is a 1981 Filipino martial arts schlock-flick about a woman hunting for her sister. Still, that movie had some oddly inspired editing and solid action sequences and was entertaining as all get out despite its paper-thin excuse for a plot.
Or take the Shaw Brothers classic The Infra-Man about a Chinese Ultra-Man ripoff with a catchy score, breathless pacing, and a heady lack of concern with such petty things as narrative logic. These movies are bad, but understand that time is money and get on with it. Not to mention despite their cheapness, they look better and frame the action, if not better, than more striking than Hidden Strike.
Above all, these movies live rent-free in my head because of their strange originality and commitment to their own sense of self. I’m already struggling to remember Hidden Strike.
They are bad, but in a way that’s charming. Hidden Strike is just bad.
Images courtesy of Netflix
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