How weird is The Rookies? During a chase scene, we suddenly get a shot of two snails on a road. A passing vehicle sweeps one of them away. The other then looks directly into the camera and screams in horror. Another scene finds a young man attempting to hide a sex doll from his mother, who's unknowingly sitting on it. This hyperactive Chinese action comedy has a lot of outrageous moments that are fun to watch. They'd be even more fun if they were surrounded by a coherent plot and three-dimensional characters.
Milla Jovovich is the ostensible star, although she gets sidelined a little more than halfway through. Her character is Bruce – see, I told you it was weird – the leader of a spy organization. She recruits extreme sports enthusiast Zhou Feng (Talu Wang) to assist in a mission. There's some kind of bad guy looking for some sort of eternal youth potion. I really don't know. Maybe it was the English translation, but when the characters speak to each other, they often don't appear to be discussing the same subject. For that reason, trying to understand exactly what's going on is an exercise in futility. The upshot is that Feng joins Bruce's team in a globe-hopping mission that gives them plenty of opportunities to experience danger.
Some may view it as a liability that The Rookies can't decide whether it wants to be a hardcore action movie or a slapstick comedy. There's a nifty, dizzying scene at the beginning where Feng and another athlete compete to climb the lightning rod on top of a skyscraper. Beyond that, the action scenes come with an overdose of humor. A guy encased in bubble wrap is dangled from the side of a speeding car, causing him to repeatedly smack into passing objects. There's a chase involving sidecar motorcycles that keep tipping over. A Volkswagen bug sprouts mechanical legs and stomps through city streets. The utter fearlessness with which the film presents its nutty ideas is entertaining.
Unfortunately, you have to slog through a whole lot of confusion to get to them. The Rookies bounces from one thing to another, including an out-of-nowhere animated sequence, like a pinball. Keeping track of it all isn't worth the effort. Who the villain is never becomes clear, nor does the evil plan he's carrying out. Similarly, because the movie doesn't stick with any of them long enough, our heroes come off as bland. When the characters are thin and the plot has no structure, all the wacky/funny action sequences in the world won't make it work.
The Rookies has enough energy for six movies. If director/co-writer Alan Yuen knew how to focus that energy into a story that made a little sense, it might have been a must-see rather than a mere curiosity.
out of four
The Rookies is unrated, but contains adult situations and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.