Kehr Capsule of the Week: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Crossing good-ol’-boy humor (Kurt Russell as a loquacious truck driver whose route takes him to San Francisco’s Chinatown) with the crazily stylized action and supernatural extravagances of a Hong Kong kung fu thriller (James Hong as a 2,000-year-old spirit who kidnaps girls with green eyes) sounds like a promisingly bizarre idea, but somehow this 1986 feature comes off like fake Spielberg. Director John Carpenter seems more than ever a style in search of a subject, creating seductively complicated wide-screen spaces and spinning an action montage that is at times superbly dynamic, yet unable to establish characters or a clear line of development. The dialogue, by W.D. Richter (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai), has a loopy originality, but because it bears no resemblance to any known form of human expression it just works as a barrier: everyone seems to be sharing a private camp joke, and we can’t identify with anyone the way we need to for the action to have any real sense of exhilaration. Despite the imagination on display, the film turns dull and academic. With Dennis Dun, Kim Cattrall, and Victor Wong.

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