Review by Sean Boelman
Chinese action films are an entirely different breed of action filmmaking compared to their American counterparts, and sometimes they don’t translate well to a Western audience. Although The Rookies has some fun moments, the attempts to Westernize its sensibilities are distracting at best and laughable at worst.
The movie tells the story of an extreme sports fan who, along with his amateur scientist friend and a police officer, is recruited by an international secret agent to stop an illegal trade. It’s clear that this is supposed to be a parody of the espionage genre, but a lot of the comedy is lost in translation, causing this to become little more than a B-movie with a few cool action sequences.
For much of the first hour, the film is all over the place. It can’t decide whether it wants to be a globe-trotting adventure, a broad comedy, or a gritty crime thriller. When it settles into its rhythm during the second act, basically becoming a knock-off Mission: Impossible, it becomes much more enjoyable to watch.
Unfortunately, the central battle between good and evil here is very generic, and is the totality of the movie’s substance. There are some interesting threads about corruption in the police, but perhaps in an attempt to satisfy government censors, the punches are very lightweight and the dirty cops characters are instead presented as mere goofs.
Perhaps the film’s biggest issue is the selection of its protagonist. The extreme sports junkie who becomes the central action hero has a far less compelling arc than the good cop fighting for what’s right when the institution abandons its morals. But again, this was likely too confrontational of an arc to serve as the crux of an international production such as this.
The star power in the movie for American audiences comes from Milla Jovovich, who has a prominent supporting role. She gets to kick ass in a couple of scenes, but for the most part, she is relegated to the sidelines as the coach for the Chinese stars to take center stage. And Talu Wang and Sandrine Pinna do a solid job of carrying the film.
Of course, as is the case with a lot of live action movies making their way to American audiences, this film is presented in a truly atrocious English dub. The voice acting feels out-of-place and isn’t even mixed in very well. It’s a shame, because this distracts from what are some legitimately entertaining set pieces.
The Rookies is entertaining enough, but it’s almost guaranteed that it would have been a lot more fun to watch in its unadulterated, subtitled version. Hopefully if this would-be franchise gets off the ground, audiences will be given more options than an abysmal dub.
The Rookies hits theaters and VOD on April 16.