kiss of the dragon (2001, Fox), dir. Chris Nahon w/ Jet Li, Bridget Fonda. This is a fairly generic actioner, with Li as a Chinese special agent who comes to Paris and finds himself framed for murder and involved with a desperate hooker (Fonda) and a brutal, corrupt cop (Tchéky Karyo). That said, Nahon makes full use of some exotic Paris locations (he stages a fight on one of the bateaux mouches that ferry sightseers along the Seine) and has the benefit of HK fight choreographer Corey Yuen, who produced four first-rate fight scenes for Li. The DVD lets the viewer skip over the dull stuff and get straight to the fights.
extras Commentary track with Nahon, Li and Fonda. As the only native English speaker, Fonda tends to dominate, and hearing her talk about acting is actually more fun than watching her act. Also, interviews with Li and Yuen, martial arts demos, theatrical trailer. English and Spanish versions, English subtitles. NNN
Big-screen rating: NN (JH)
rock star (2001, WB), dir. Stephen Herek w/ Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston. Set in the 80s metal world of hair bands in tight leather pants wearing way too much eye shadow, Rock Star follows the rise of a wannabe (Wahlberg) who gets drafted as lead singer for his favourite band, Steel Dragon. Rock Star would be a small gem if it hadn't been systematically gutted. Herek's commentary reveals that several scenes of Wahlberg indulging in the full sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll lifestyle were removed because they made him seem unlikeable. Deleting those scenes also makes the ending abrupt and improbable, and his relationship problems with long-time girlfriend Aniston irrelevant. The result is rather like Spinal Tap as an earnest drama, which isn't nearly as funny as it sounds. Wahlberg and Aniston are good, but the performances are wasted.
Commentary track with director Herek, making-of featurette, cast and crew bios, Everclear video for Rock Star, theatrical trailer. English and French dub, plus English, French and Spanish subtitles. NN
Big-screen rating: Wahlberg's boyish naivete, strong singing voice and six-pack abs do all the work. NNN (IR)
gangster no. 1 (2000, TVA International), dir. Paul McGuigan w/ Paul Bettany, Malcolm MacDowell. Bettany (First Knight, A Beautiful Mind) gets a star-making role as the nameless title character who ages into MacDowell in this psychologically astute but visually overwrought British crime film. On the one hand, it's a classic gangster tragedy, the rise of a brutal young hood to a position of underworld power, followed by his downfall owing to his own psychological flaws. On the other, it's worth a rent for the performances by Bettany, MacDowell, Saffron Burrows and David Thewlis. For some reason, we're getting it on video prior to the U.S. theatrical release in April.
Director McGuigan's commentary track (not terribly interesting), deleted scenes, making-of featurette, theatrical trailer. English and French versions. NNN
Big-screen rating: NN (JH)
Also this weekAlso this week
Tron: 20th Anniversary Special Edition
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy