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In Theaters/On VOD: AIR STRIKE (2018)

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AIR STRIKE
(China - 2018)

Directed by Xiao Feng. Written by Chen Ping, Yang Hsin-Yu, Zhang Hongyi, Yushi Wu, Xiaoqi Li and Qiao Wa. Cast: Bruce Willis, Ye Liu, Rumer Willis, Seung-Heon Song, William Chan, Wei Fan, Nicholas Tse, Bingbing Fan, Chen Daoming, Adrien Brody, Lei Jia, Gang Wu, Su Ma, Yongli Che, Yuanzheng Feng, Le Geng, Ning Chang, Simon Yam. (R, 96 mins)

Shot in 2015 and initially known as both the prophetically self-fulfilling THE BOMBING and later as the more inspirational UNBREAKABLE SPIRIT, with a price tag reported to be anywhere between $65-$90 million, this mega-budget Chinese government-funded epic has been hacked down by about 25 minutes for its straight-to-VOD US release under the generic, Redbox-ready title AIR STRIKE. Embarrassingly cheap-looking despite being the most expensive Chinese film ever made at the time it went into production (it was also shot in 3-D, but that was scrapped during post), with aerial dogfight sequences and visual effects that recall the kinds of computer animation that looked dated in the 1990s, AIR STRIKE looks like INCHON if remade by The Asylum. The making of the film seems far more interesting than anything that ended up onscreen, a jumbled hodgepodge of characters and events taking place in 1939 during the Second Sino-Japanese War, where Japan launched near-constant bombing raids that decimated Chongqing. There's three different storylines, with characters sometimes intersecting and ending up in places and you have no idea how they got there (the Chinese characters are badly dubbed in English, while the Japanese villains get subtitles). There's former pilot Xue Gangtou (Ye Liu), injured on a mission and reassigned to military intelligence, where he's to ensure that a truck with a secret McGuffin cargo must gets to Chongqing, complete with a half-assed WAGES OF FEAR crossing over a precarious bridge. There's a team of fighter pilots overseen by constipated-looking US military adviser Col. Jack Johnson (top-billed export value Bruce Willis), who barks orders and has to whip them into shape. And there's tons of gratuitous mahjong at a local bar.






The fact that Lionsgate is AIR STRIKE's US distributor might make it a backdoor installment in the studio's landmark "Bruce Willis Phones In His Performance From His Hotel Room" series, but he's onscreen quite a bit here and actually takes part in some of the--albeit mostly greenscreen--action sequences. But he finds other ways to make his participation something special and display his utter contempt for what he does for a living, whether it's vacillating between several-day stubble and being clean-shaven in a single scene with no regard for continuity (this happens several times, and what kind of by-the-book US military honcho in 1939 sported trendy stubble?) or, in one scene that has to be seen to be believed, breaking out an anachronistic, open-mic-night-level Christopher Walken impression when the Chinese pilots throw him a surprise birthday party, going off on an obviously improvised monologue about a watch his father gave him. Did Chinese director Xiao Feng even realize his star was amusing himself by dropping a PULP FICTION reference into the middle of a scene? Willis is even visibly smirking while he's doing it. His daughter Rumer gets third billing for a 20-second bit part as a nurse, and she's been unconvincingly dubbed over with a British accent. Oscar-winner Adrien Brody turns up for two brief scenes in the not-even-remotely-pivotal role of "Steve," an American volunteering at a Chongqing orphanage and getting blown up before we even figure out who he is (an entire subplot with his character has been cut for the US release, perhaps as a bizarre tribute to the actor's mostly scrapped work in Terrence Malick's THE THIN RED LINE). Bingbing Fan, the hugely popular actress, model, and pop singer and China's highest-paid superstar, also puts in a few sporadic appearances. Her summer 2018 disappearance and subsequent re-emergence and tax evasion scandal (she's reportedly been fined the equivalent of $130 million by the Chinese government), combined with one-time producer Zhi Jianxiang being a fugitive on the country's most wanted list after fleeing China when he was hit with fraud and money laundering charges related to this project and 2015's IP MAN 3, resulted in the cancellation of the long-shelved film's belated Chinese release just a week before its American debut.




It's worth pointing out that the shots of Bruce Willis
above AND below come from the SAME scene.




Adrian Brody pleading with his
agent to get him in a better movie.
It's hard to imagine AIR STRIKE being good in any incarnation. The original Chinese version reportedly ran 120 minutes, but given its legal issues at home, the truncated, 96-minute American cut, supervised by veteran editor Robert A. Ferretti (TANGO & CASH, DIE HARD 2, UNDER SIEGE) might be the only one available for the foreseeable future. Prior to taking on this massive epic, director Xiao Feng only had one other film to his credit, the 2012 war drama HUSHED ROAR, which was unreleased outside of China. Helping out under the credited guise of "consultant" and creative adviser is the unlikely Mel Gibson, then in one of his periodic Hollywood pariah periods prior to his Oscar-nominated resurgence as a filmmaker with 2016's HACKSAW RIDGE. Ostensibly brought aboard because of his experience in hard-hitting battle scenes, it's possible Gibson had a hand in directing Willis and Brody, as almost all of the combat and action sequences are just a blurred blizzard of atrocious and aggressively unconvincing CGI. Other experienced Hollywood pros were hired by the Chinese producers in an advisory capacity, including cinematographer Conrad W. Hall (PANIC ROOM, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN), credited as "special effects consultant," and the late, great Vilmos Zsigmond as a "cinematography consultant" to the film's own D.P. Shu Yang. An Academy Award-winner for his work on 1977's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and also the renowned cinematographer of MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, DELIVERANCE, and THE DEER HUNTER among many others, Zsigmond was a legend in his field when he died in 2016 at the age of 85. Sadly, AIR STRIKE will go down as his final work, though there's nothing here to indicate that he, Hall, or Gibson were able to help in any way. The kind of movie where six screenwriters are credited and the best any of them can come up with is the one man who knows the contents of the truck's secret cargo's last, dying words being "The truck...is carrying...aaaaggghh..." as he keels over, AIR STRIKE is one of the most bewilderingly awful films of the year. I mean, seriously. What the fuck happened here? What can you say about a movie that's such a garbage fire that 2018 Bruce Willis is one of its positives?

AIR STRIKE director Xiao Feng on the set with "consultant" Mel Gibson.

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