There's no doubting the amount of ambition that went into The Rookies, which tries so hard to be this mega blockbuster action film by cramming in as many things as possible — animation, humour, tragedy, buddy comedy, CGI effects, stunts, explosions, and even a split-screen sequence — even though it doesn't focus on any of them properly. So instead of a dazzling extravaganza, the whole movie feels like a Frankenstein's monster of disparate bits.
The Rookies is about a bunch of strangers who, through convoluted and contrived circumstances, find themselves acting as self-appointed rookie secret agents. They come upon a dastardly plot that could spell disaster for the entire planet, and rush off to save the world. Things don't go quite as expected, especially when there are real secret agents who are trying to prevent the same catastrophe as well.
It's never really clear what The Rookies (素人特工) is about. The opening sequence frames the whole movie as some sort of extreme sports adventure (like xXx), before unceremoniously dumping the hero in a mindbogglingly unrealistic situation that results in shenanigans! A shootout! Explosions! People in black suits! It's as if everything that happens in the film has an exclamation mark appended to it, because all of it is important and all of it must be front and centre in the movie. The problem, of course, is that when everything is important, none of it is. You don't actually know what's happening, because none of it makes any sense.
But it's an action movie, so perhaps the producers thought that plot is secondary (which it should never be). So perhaps the action sequences are the saving grace of the movie, thrilling you when the plot fails to excite. The stunts are big and expensive, for sure — but if you have no real reason for those stunts, no proper motivations, or any meaningful stakes for suspense, then the stunts are pointless. You get people ramming cars into things, jumping off buildings, blowing stuff up, all for no reason other than to show that a lot of money was spent on stunts.
The acting is also... questionable. Given that the lead is Wang Talu, who played the charismatic Xu Taiyu from 2015's The Times, you'd expect him to pull in a memorable performance as the rascally extreme sportsman Zhao Feng. Instead, you get a complete moron who is so inept that you wonder how he even managed to survive as long as he did. The least the film could have done was to give us a scoundrel with a heart of gold (the most basic of protagonist archetypes), but even that level of depth was too much to expect from The Rookies. Given what we've seen of Wang's acting ability in other films, it's almost certain that this was a directorial decision, rather than one that came from the actor.
In an effort to be hipster and cool, the film also features several animated sequences that stand in for exposition. It sounds like a great idea to vary the pace and showcase some nifty visuals, until you see how laughably bad the animation is. You can certainly be forgiven if you thought that this was some sort of (lousy) school project, just by the animation alone.
And there's the split screen. In the middle of a tense battle, with the fate of major cities hanging in the balance... there's a split screen. A split screen that achieves nothing, feels jarring, and completely throws you off. Where did it come from? What was the stylistic rationale for it? Why such a strange directorial choice? Did the video editor realise what a mess the film was and let a five-year-old take the reins for that part? Did nobody notice the weird split screen that literally came out of nowhere?
If all that wasn't enough, there's also the copious amounts of asinine slapstick being tossed left, right, centre. Apparently, the producers thought it would be funny to have Milla Jovovich play a character called Bruce. Anyway, what could charitably be called humour only lets up after an awful accident occurs, and even then, it's not like you actually feel the impact of their loss.
Then the film sees fit to throw in a mental illness joke about the female lead of the show, Miao Yan (Sandrine Pinna). Yes, a mental health joke, in this day and age. The Rookies shows its utter lack of taste, consideration, and class with a purportedly funny sequence about Miao Yan's struggles with her mental health.
If there was ever a movie that felt like it was designed by committee, it's The Rookies. It's unclear who had the biggest say in the film, because everything seems to clamour for your attention as it's shoved to the forefront. Someone needed to tell the producers that moderation is key — and to have a clear, focused, and intelligent vision for the movie. If there's one redeeming quality about this film, it's that it obviously cost a lot to make.
Should you watch this at all? Yes.
Should you watch this in cinemas? No.
Secret ending? A mid-credits scene, and a sequence as the credits roll.
Running time: 113 min
The Rookies (素人特工) is a Chinese action adventure film.
The movie is about a motley crew who somehow come upon a sinister plot. For some reason, they decide to become secret agents and make it their goal to save the world, even though nobody asked them to. But when the real secret agents are put out of commission, this bunch of misfits may be all that stands between a demented terrorist and his plot to ruin the world.
The Rookies (素人特工) is directed and written by Alan Yuen. It stars Wang Talu (Zhao Feng), Sandrinne Pinna (Miao Yan), Milla Jovovich (Bruce), Xu Weizhou (Ding Shan), Liu Meitong (LV), and David Lee McInnis (Iron Fist).
The Rookies (素人特工) opens in cinemas:
- 1 August, 2019 (Singapore)
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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