Originally titled War but rebadged for the international market as Rogue Assassin – not to be confused with the upcoming Australian film Rogue about a giant saltwater croc on a rampage in Australia’s Far North – there is very little fresh on display in this latest collaboration between martial arts choreographer Corey Yuen and two of his regular stars, Jet Li and Jason Statham.
Statham is FBI agent Jack Crawford – presumably a different character from the FBI agent named Jack Crawford played by Dennis Farina in Manhunter, Scott Glenn in The Silence of the Lambs and Harvey Keitel in Red Dragon – a specialist in Asian organised crime working out of the San Francisco office. His partner Tom Lone is killed by a shadowy assassin named Rogue, setting Crawford on a long journey of revenge that will culminate in their showdown. Crawford has the FBI behind him, but Rogue is driven by something far more personal.
To say that the long awaited re-match between Statham and Li is a bust is an understatement – those hoping the two will actually trade blows (and the poster is certainly suggestive) are going to end up sorely disappointed. Both get their share of ass-kicking done, but overall the amount of martial arts on display is much less than one may expect. When they come, there are several fight scenes that demonstrate the gift of Yuen for making action sequences sing – the showdown in the Japanese tea house with Statham on a rampage has him using all available weapons including bits of walls and broken fittings to overcome his opponents, and is the most fun of the film.
Overshadowing the fighting is the attempt at intrigue, and it is here that Rogue Assassin predominantly fails. The clumsy maneouverings that allow Rogue to work within both Triad and Yakuza gangs are never entirely believable, and the revelations of the final act shade on ridiculous. The prerequisite little hints that should have been left throughout the film to allow the ending to work are inadequate, and the final outcome is plain silly. After taking so long with an overblown but essentially simple story of revenge, the resolution is the final insult to an audience whose patience has already been sorely tested.
While Jason Statham is almost always watchable, possessing as he does the ability to seem charming no matter how bad the film or script he is lumbered with (Crank anyone?), fans must surely be tiring of his failures. Li seems to be moving in other directions, but Statham is mired in the mediocrity of sub-par action flicks. One wonders if his time will ever come.Rating: