The Replacement Killers (1998)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * *

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When his son is killed by Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker), a Los Angeles policeman, a powerful mob boss named Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang) hires an assassin, John Lee (Chow Yun-Fat), to murder that man's own son. John, however, bothered by his conscience, fails to shoot the boy. Fearing retaliation, the reluctant killer then makes contact with a forger, Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino), who, he hopes, will be able to provide him with falsified documents which will allow him to hurry back to China so that he can protect his own family from Wei. Unfortunately, the gangster has sent more killers to dispose of John before he can do so.

Antoine Fuqua's The Replacement Killers is a mediocre but genuinely fun and exciting film.

The movie's action sequences are consistently well choreographed and frequently actually exhilarating. The director has punctuated The Replacement Killers with numerous, often savage gun battles fought in a crowded cinema, a ruinous apartment complex, narrow alleys, and various other locations. In each of these, he reveals Lee's nearly superhuman skills with firearms, Meg's nearly equal talents, and the appalling viciousness of their brutal opponents. I will concede that these routines are never truly inspired, but they are likely to entertain the viewer, nonetheless.

Sadly, The Replacement Killers' characters are never as engaging as are its depictions of combat. While both Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino are wonderfully modish, the persons they play are merely vacant shells. Lee is a decent man who has found himself working for despicable persons, but who, in the end, resolves upon doing what is right, in spite of the consequences, and Meg is a tough but golden hearted forger. As dull as this pair are, however, they are marginally more intriguing than are any of the supporting characters. Stan is a rough, hard cop who loves his child. Wei is a cold, cunning, heartless fiend, and his right-hand man, Michael (Jürgen Prochnow), is the same. Not one of these persons has been imaginatively realized and not one of them is likely to make a deep impression on the viewer.

What is more, the film's narrative is very clumsily constructed. Throughout its duration, the movie is filled with hackneyed moments, in which one character or another makes some predictable decision or suffers some trite crisis, as well as with such awkward developments that they really do strain the viewer's credulity. Nonetheless, if he is able to let go of his reason, to forget about these numerous problems with which the film is beset, and focus on its stylish action routines, the moviegoer will find much in The Replacement Killers he can enjoy.

Thanks to its fight scenes, and to the appeal of its two leads, The Replacement Killers is watchable, but it is nothing more than a pleasant, forgettable diversion.

Review by Keith Allen

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