REVIEW: THE ROOKIES (2019)

If you’re a fan of Chinese action movies and Milla Jovovich, this movie sounds like a good bet… but it’s not. Only for the Jovovich completist. And maybe not then.

Figure 1 – Milla Jovovich

This is not going to be a really long TLDR review like I sometimes post. For one thing, I’ve had a really tough week, personally, and my mind is a bit… scattered. For another, this column is more in the nature of a placeholder, because the movie is not a very good one. If you read my column regularly, you’re probably aware I’m a fan of action star Milla Jovovich (YO-vuh-vich) and have been ever since The Fifth Element, written and directed by Luc Besson, came out. Her character, Leeloo, was appealing and a direct foil for the understated acting of costar Bruce Willis. It was her breakout role and an indicator that she’d appear in more genre films than previously.

As I said in a previous column, the last film I saw her in was 2020’s Monster Hunter, which was another in a long line of action films for her, and another one that would not bring her kudos and accolades for her acting skills. Which is a shame, because whether she is an Academy-Award calibre actress or not, she is a kick-ass action star who can use a wire as well as Jet Li, in my opinion, and looks even better than he while doing so (not necessarily in a martial arts way, but she is, after all, a world-class model).

Anyway, when I happened upon a review that called The Rookies a bad movie (and said it was a 2021 movie, which it is not), I knew I had to see it, so see it I did.

Figure 2 – The Rookies Poster

Although her appearance in this Chinese film was not as perfunctory as, say, Raymond Burr’s in Godzilla, she is obviously not the star—and was brought in by the film-makers solely to bring in Western money at the box office. In fact, in the last third or so of the movie she appears as a paralyzed person in a hospital bed, who can only communicate by blinking. (And I understand it was a box-office failure in China.)

She plays “Bruce,” who is a top agent for a secret agency called The Knights of the Phoenix, if I remember it right. She has all the secret agent stuff going on, including a really mod haircut and a leather business suit, plus a super-spy watch, mad combat and driving skills, and so on.

The main character is an adrenaline junkie, (Wang Talu) Zhao Feng (pronounced “Fung,” in case you didn’t know), who happens on an illicit transaction while BASE jumping and is mistaken for the person with the cash value. The transaction is a trade for a secret genetic formula with some forgettable name like XB-85 (or something like that) which will be exchanged for the actual Holy Grail. (No, it doesn’t look like the one Indy drank out of.) He escapes but is offered a job as a spy by Bruce to recover the XB-85, which if released will turn people who breathe it into plants. (Yes, I know how dumb that sounds.)

Feng is aided by a group of idiots: a very bad Chinese Interpol agent (Sandrine Pinna) named Miao Miao; Xu Weizhou as Ding Shan, an inventor who’s come up with a pocket EMP “capable of shutting down all electronics within a 1 km radius”; Liu Meitong as a pretty little doofus of a doctor called LV; and someone else who escapes me. The bad guy is called Iron Fist (David Lee McInnes), of all things. He’s apparently some kind of eco-freak who wants to save the planet by turning humans—who are bad—into plants, which are good. And the formula can do this.

The main action takes place in Budapest (because, according to the review I read, China has just added 20 air links to Hungary to promote tourism); and the filmmakers used as many streets (and open-air cafés) as they could for their auto stunts, of which there were dozens. (The movie’s only an hour and a half, but is so tedious I had to take a half-hour break in the middle to recover.) You do get a lot of shots of the bridge over the Danube, though.

Oh, and about 2/3 of the way in there’s an extended ripoff of the animated sequence in Kill Bill part 2, the part where we learn about O-Ren Ishii’s past and how she became a killer (Lucy Liu). Even to the eyeball shots and the blood drops… though I guess this is so well done I should call it an extended homage to that sequence.

Aside from that clever little bit, the movie has little to recommend it. It’s full of cartoon characters—both good guys and bad—movie and other ripoffs (there’s a Kiss-ish band called Rob*bers, and a bit from the Disney movie Up, and a kind of Roger Rabbit-ish car). The plot is not so much full of holes, as it is empty of connecting threads for the various bits. I think I’d better advise you to steer clear of this one if you’re looking for a fun movie; I’d hoped it would be, but it just became tedious.

You have comments? You bet—give ‘em here! Comment here, or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome! (But be polite, and be aware I might defend my view!) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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