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Fat's Chance

[whitespace] The Replacement Killers
All Killers, No Fillers: Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino back to back

Chow Yun-Fat gleams in 'Killers'

By Richard von Busack

THE TITLE of The Replacement Killers is a fulfilled promise of second-rate entertainment. The film has a plot you could follow dead-drunk and half-asleep. Chow Yun-Fat plays John Lee, a killer for hire extorted into a series of three assassinations. When he balks on the third, he finds himself hunted down by the Mr. Big he crossed. Hiding with him is Meg Coburn (the as-always unimpressive Mira Sorvino), who got caught in the crossfire after Lee hired her to forge his passport.

This is the first American movie starring Yun-Fat. Though he doesn't do a lot here, he doesn't have to; his particular mystery is intact. The mystery is simply stated: Why should Yun-Fat be so much more compelling to look at than anyone else in the film? If he makes it in America, as he has already in Hong Kong--where he is a extraordinarily popular actor--it may be because of his striking resemblance to the King. His mouth looks like Elvis' mouth. He styles his hair to get the most of the resemblance, with a little stiff fringe of it slouching against his forehead. Yun-Fat has that winning combination of a visibly bruised soul and an undertone of self-amusement. He also has the radiant modesty that's the gleam on a real star.

First-time director Anthony Fuqua, a music-video vet, brings some of the skills of his former trade to bear. Fuqua is expert at shattering up images, but he's not so good at reassembling them. The many gunfights here are disconnected, incoherent--it's difficult to tell who's shooting at whom. The soundtrack is a main character in the movie, and the music pushes out the dialogue, probably because of Yun-Fat's limited English. The suspense-building scenes are scored to ambient rumbles, exhalations and gasps, dotted with watery pulses that sound exactly like the U.S.S. Seaview's sonar on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Most of the soundtrack, though, consists of loud club music: the punishing beat, the repetition of lurid phrases like "She makes me want to die" and murky, horror-movie keyboards.

I hate this kind of din, but I can really see the purpose of it; this kind of noise tries to cleave the bicameral mind, tries to set the brain and the body going in separate directions. This disassociation is what you'd aim for if you were trying to distill adrenaline, though The Replacement Killers doesn't have the charge of a weak cup of coffee. Fuqua is coasting on Yun-Fat's image as a cool man with a pair of chrome automatics. The director doesn't bring anything to the show. Fuqua tries to make a movie that isn't so much a "joint" (as Spike Lee puts it) as a costume party, John Woo Night at an after-hours dance club. The main problem is that Fuqua didn't let anyone nearly as fascinating as Yun-Fat in past the velvet rope.


The Replacement Killers (R; 88 min.), directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Ken Sanzel, photographed by Peter Lyons Collister and starring Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino.

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From the February 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro.

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