The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


China Salesman

If someone told you that there was an action movie starring Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson, you'd likely have one of two reactions: 1.) that it would be bad; or 2.) that the pairing is so unlikely that it might end up being good goofy fun. When I first heard about China Salesman, my reaction was the latter. Oh, to have such optimism again. How do you put these two less-than-talented thespians into a cheap-o action flick and create something as dreary and dull as this? The chance for cinematic lunacy of the highest order was right there!

The plot revolves around a bunch of different corporations all competing to become the first telecom company in Africa. Somehow, it's even less exciting than it sounds. Tyson plays Kabbah, a local tribesman, and Seagal is a mercenary named Lauder. I know that because I read the press notes. The movie itself never satisfactorily explains who either of them are supposed to be. Nevertheless, both get caught in the middle of the competition. Dong-xue Li plays a representative from a Chinese company determined to win the bid.

China Salesman is mostly long, excruciatingly dull scenes of characters standing around talking about telecom equipment, bidding requirements, and broken cell phone towers. Yes, really. What could be less interesting? An in-depth examination of paper clips, maybe, or two hours of people discussing the properties of dryer lint. It's impossible for your mind not to wander during the film because the dialogue mixes flatness and wonkiness in a manner that tests your patience.

Occasionally, the tech talk is interrupted by a pointless, confusing action scene in which people shoot aimlessly at each other or a martial arts fight breaks out. Director Tan Bing doesn't know how to tell a compelling story the movie lurches almost randomly from thing to thing. Nor does he know how to shoot a coherent action sequence. What we get are sloppily-edited montages of guns firing and people punching and kicking, with no rhyme or reason. Toss in a smattering of laughably fake CGI and you have something so awful that you almost yearn for more of the telecom babble.

If anything is worse than the plot, dialogue, and action, it's the performances. Tyson isn't really an actor to begin with, but in China Salesman, he has to act and use an African accent. The result makes Tommy Wiseau in The Room look like Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. Seagal, meanwhile, does his usual I'm bored just being here scowl. He also visibly relies on a stuntman to perform his single action scene, since he is, shall we say, not exactly in the best of shape anymore.

It's worth noting that Seagal and Tyson are collectively onscreen for only about fifteen minutes, and that Tyson doesn't interact with other performers in the majority of his shots. He's often standing alone, all too obviously in front of a green-screen. This suggests that his entire role was added after everything else had already been shot. The effect is very noticeable.

China Salesman claims to be based on a true story. If so, we can safely assume that huge portions of it have been made up for dramatic purposes. Unless, of course, the competing telecom companies really did have their employees outrun tanks and fight bad guys using martial arts moves.

Regardless, the film is almost unspeakably terrible and will be of interest only to people who are really, really, really into telecom companies.

(1/2 out of four)

China Salesman is unrated, but contains language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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