Jackie Chan and John Cena in "Hidden Strike" (2023)

Hidden Strike 狂怒沙暴 (2023) Review

The long-delayed Hidden Strike <狂怒沙暴> falls into the category of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” of a potentially good action comedy. It has Jackie Chan and John Cena (even though, the latter was supposedly intended for Sylvester Stallone but dropped out instead). The movie is directed by Scott Waugh of Act of Valor and Need for Speed fame. And it also boasts a big-budget price tag, reportedly costing approximately RMB570 million (US$80 million) to make.

But despite the movie completed production in 2018, it suffered from an indefinite delay at the time. It even underwent several title changes from Ex-Baghdad to SNAFU (a military acronym for “Situation normal: all f***** up“), Project X and Project X-Traction before finally settling for the current title. Hidden Strike <狂怒沙暴> was released theatrically earlier in July in selected countries such as Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. But for the rest of the world, the movie premiered on Netflix instead.

Upon finally watching Hidden Strike <狂怒沙暴> in its entirety, I hate to say this but it sadly suffers from the mediocrity of most Jackie Chan-starred action movies these days. The first thing that annoys me the most is the overuse of flimsy CGI and green screens. The first 40 minutes or so already rears its ugly head with shoddily-rendered, CG-heavy scenes such as the vehicular chase through the sandstorm. I just can’t help but feel Waugh and screenwriter Arash Amel are shamelessly (or is it just a pure coincidence?) ripping off Mad Max: Fury Road.

The story, in the meantime, is pretty straightforward: Dragon Luo (Jackie Chan) and his team of special forces soldiers (among them played by Rima Zeidan) are assigned to transport the workers from the Chinese-owned oil refinery in the buses along Baghdad’s Highway of Death to the safe zone. Luo has an estranged daughter named Mei (Ma Chunrui), who is also aboard the bus. However, en route, a group of mercenaries led by Henry (Amadeus Serafini) and Chris Van Horne (John Cena) hijacked Luo’s convoy.

Long story short, Luo and Chris eventually cross paths around 40 minutes mark later. For a while there, their mismatched buddy-movie chemistry looks promising with Chan and Cena playing off against each other well. It’s funny seeing them disagreeing and bickering, namely having a tough time understanding each other when trying to communicate using hand signals. But as the movie goes on, the comedy increasingly misses the mark and the story grows stale. While it was common knowledge that you don’t go watch a Jackie Chan movie for the story, that doesn’t mean it has to be this tedious.

The action is mostly a mixed bag with the major set pieces revolving around chases, flipping vehicles and explosions ruined by bad CGI. The fight scenes along with some of Chan’s trademark acrobatic stunts, however, are the least saving grace here. They are nothing spectacular but still reasonably entertaining, given the fact that Chan already hitting 64 years old when the movie finished filming in 2018. Kudos also go to Waugh for his crisp camerawork devoid of any jittery shots or quick cuts, allowing us to appreciate its elaborate choreography.

Hidden Strike <狂怒沙暴> lacks a worthy antagonist with Pilou Asbæk, who plays the scheming mercenary Owen Paddock, is nothing more than a standard-issue villain.

Hidden Strike <狂怒沙暴> is currently streaming on Netflix.

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