Opened: July 18, 1997 | Rated: PG-13
For years I've maintained that all Jackie Chan movies are three star movies -- none of them masterpieces of comedy or action, but every one of them a hell of a lot of fun.
Not "Operation Condor." While it certainly grades high in Chan's campy approach to martial arts, the plot -- about secret agent Jackie searching the Sahara for missing Nazi gold -- gets in the way of everything else that makes his movies appealing. The fight scenes lack spirit and the stunts just don't hold the awe that they do in his better pictures.
"Condor" is still a considerably better picture than much of this summer's other action fare ("Batman and Robin" and "Speed 2" come immediately to mind), but on the Jackie Chan scale it's about a four.
This may be due to the fact that Chan took the director's chair on this picture -- and co-wrote the script with Edward Tang -- splintering his attention and getting him too caught up in the plot.
The cloak-and-dagger storyline finds Chan spoofing James Bond as a gadget-toting secret agent, opening up the door for exotic locations and in the process, leaving behind the staples of Chan's success -- black-belt antagonists and the crowded streets of Asia that invite fantastic stunts and chases.
Here Chan spends much of the movie wandering the Sahara in search of a lost Nazi base where gold was hidden. Not being a particularly clever writer, Chan borrows heavily from the Indiana Jones pictures for plot and ends up with way too much of it.
There's two sets of bad guys also after the gold, a band of Bedouins protecting the buried base and a German officer's granddaughter tagging along. All this is explained in about 60 seconds by Chan spy agency boss, who pairs him with a female superior (Carol Cheng) for this mission. Chan spends half the picture rescuing her from gun-toting thugs.
Resplendent with stereotypes -- the helpless, screaming females, the trigger-happy Arabs with Italian restaurant tablecloths on their heads -- the release of "Operation Condor" is a transparent attempt by Dimension Films (part of Miramax) to cash in on the Jackie Chan craze while his next picture is in production.
This movie was released in Asia in 1991, and it looks very dated. Chan has the worst page-boy hair cut and the costumes look like they're out of a Duran Duran catalog.
While a couple fights carry Chan's trademark humor -- one showdown takes place in a wind tunnel, providing tremendous opportunities for physical gags -- all of them are either too gimmicky or too short to be very exciting.
If you're a Jackie Chan addict and can't wait until his next new picture, "Mr. Nice Guy," early next year, "Condor" might serve as a fix. Otherwise, just be patient.