The movie's opening features a cameo by Jackie Chan.
By ROGER MOORE
You'd better eat your Wheaties?
Naaah. After watching Tony Jaa scamper up walls, back-flip off of moving cars, kickbox while in the middle of perfect handstands and snap legs and arms as if they were breadsticks, I'm switching to Pad Thai, three meals a day. This peanut-powered Thai powerhouse is the most electrifying martial artist in the movies today.
The star of "Ong Bak" is back for more revenge in "The Protector," a poorly plotted variation of "Ong Bak's" "You stole my village idol!" chop-sockey chase picture.
Jaa plays an elephant trainer chasing more ruthless, cutthroat thieves.
"You stole my elephant!"
Cam (Jaa) is an elephant hugger from way back. He's descended from those who provide and protect "perfect" elephants for the Thai king. When his dad takes their revered elephant bull to town, with Cam leading the baby elephant Kohrn for the king's inspector to approve, dad is killed and both elephants swiped.
Dad's last words? "Save those elephants, boy."
On his way
Cam's furious pursuit (a Thai boat chase) takes him to Australia, where the stereotypical Dragon Lady mob boss, Rose (Xing Jing), and her clich & eacute;d punk-rock enforcer, Johnny (Johnny Nguyen), have nefarious plans for the pachyderms.
Jackie Chan has a cameo in the opening to this thriller, in essence, passing the baton to Jaa as the new martial-arts king. But the acrobatic Jaa's screen persona is much closer to Jet Li. Chan's glory came in the ways he avoided the villains' blows or bullets, feeling the pain of their punches. Li, like Jaa, wears an inhuman face of fury. Oh, to have the celery stalk commission on this film. Necks, arms, feet, hands, legs and backs are snapped and snapped again (celery is often used for that sound effect).
But for all its martial-arts prowess, "The Protector" (with Team "Ong Bak" behind the camera) is an amazingly sloppy movie. Images blur in the corners of the frame, colors don't match and the lighting cameraman plainly had a hard time communicating with Aussie crews. It's ugly to look at.
Not so great
The plot is slapdash in the extreme, perhaps a product of the Weinstein Co.'s cutting this down from 109 minutes to a brisk and nonsensical 80 for U.S. release. They mix subtitles and dubbing for the dialogue, which doesn't make it any more comprehensible.
And the fights can be epic, or repetitious, as Cam battles a "Matrix"-worth of black-clad bad guys before facing off with various Anglo men-as-big-as-mountains.
There is a path to glory in this genre, and Jaa surely knows it. Master English. Let Hollywood spend its money on script and production values while you and your team choreograph the fights.
And success looks a lot more like what Jackie Chan has had, than Jet Li. In other words, enough with the celery-snapping.