Hollywood Adventures (China/USA, 2015)
Produced by Justin Lin with the aim of creating a crowd-pleaser specifically for the Chinese audience that has flocked to his Fast and Furious entries, Hollywood Adventures is a hectic action-comedy that tries to put a meta spin on an innocents abroad scenario with three mainland stars transported to Los Angeles for some high stakes escapades that allude to China’s consumption of popular American media. Timothy Kendall is the credited director, but Lin is clearly the project’s backseat driver as Hollywood Adventures features the sun-kissed palette and jaw-dropping stunts that are staples of his blockbuster work while regular collaborator Sung Kang is on bad guy duties. The well-orchestrated mayhem on display is better represented by the film’s Chinese title, which translates as Rampage Hollywood, although Lin’s team are less expert when it comes to negotiating its shifts from broad travel comedy to industry satire to seat-of-the-pants thrill ride.
The chaos is instigated when Beijing car salesman Xiaoming (Huang Xiaoming) gets dumped by his girlfriend Yan Yan (Sarah Li) who has professionally relocated to Los Angeles. Anxious to win her back, Xiaoming books a travel package with dodgy looking company Hollywood Adventures but encounters complications from the start of his romantic mission when he is seated next to over-enthusiastic fellow tour member Dawei (Tong Dawei) on the flight out. On arrival, they are met by no-nonsense tour guide Wei Wei (Zhou Wei) who checks them into the run-down Five Star Hotel Motel, which is owned by Korean-American tour operator Manny Money (a gold-toothed and dreadlocked Kang). Yan Yan does not answer Xiaoming’s calls, but this becomes the least of his worries when it transpires that the tour is actually a front for a smuggling operation. Taking possession of a bag of rhino-horn powder (procured because of its aphrodisiac powers) during a shoot-out, Xiaoming and Dawei go on the run from Manny and the authorities, with Wei Wei still serving as their guide. Much to Dawei’s delight, it’s just like being in a Hollywood movie.
In contrast to the shabby service offered by Manny’s tour company, Hollywood Adventures is a slick package with Lin’s commercial know-how ensuring that it sets new standards for Sino-US co-operation with first class production values and quick tempo. As it hurtles through a stream of gags, set pieces, and plot twists, though, character development and consistency are sadly disregarded. The three leads are left to coast as screenwriters Brice Beckham and David Fickas are too busy creating situations for them to get out of. Each mostly plays one note throughout – resourcefulness (Zhao), romantic sincerity (Huang), and unwavering enthusiasm (Tong) – but still demonstrate a smooth interplay as a result of having shared the on previous occasions. However, supporting characters such as a belligerent Hollywood director (Stephen Tobolowsky) and an egocentric movie star (Rhys Coiro) who hides his excesses behind philanthropy are great fun, suggesting that the film’s creators are more comfortable with insider than outsider perspectives when sending up the Hollywood scene.
The chase narrative – which contrives to take the trio from the casting office of a major studio to the desert location of an action blockbuster and back to Los Angeles for an amusing peak at the industry’s party circuit – is assembled from Hollywood elements with the film’s grab bag approach consciously acknowledged by Dawei’s quip, “This is like a film that’s started shooting before the script’s finished.” Amongst all the references, there are numerous nods to Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), which add an extra meta layer to the proceedings if the viewer knows that Lin was set to direct the latest installment in the franchise before bowing out to concentrate on Fast & Furious 6 (2013). In an action-packed third act that finds cliché piling upon cliché, Hollywood Adventures recalls the sporadically inspired pastiche of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), but the crucial difference between the two is that Robert Downey, Jr.’s amateur private investigator remained largely hapless to the end, whereas Xiaoming’s beleaguered tourist suddenly transforms into a bona-fide hero, capable of performing death-defying physical feats to the accompaniment of a Mission: Impossible-style score. It’s an indication that the film has ceased poking fun at Hollywood escapism and fully embraced its worst excesses when one of the silliest tropes in the action movie playbook – the hero proving his worth to his love interest by rescuing her, even though it was his actions that put her in jeopardy in the first place – is utilized without being commented on by Dawei, who by this point has morphed into a kick-ass sidekick.
If its action beats are pilfered from the American cinematic lexicon, then it is the homegrown success of Lost in Thailand (2012) that provides Hollywood Adventures with its comedic model: both are travel comedies in which the unfamiliar landscape is traversed in a series of vehicles of increasingly poor quality which are casually discarded once they break down. In an even more blatant steal from Xu Zheng’s local phenomenon, Dawei has a crush on Two Broke Girls star Kat Dennings, who pops up in a cameo, mimicking Wang Bao’s (Wang Baoqiang) obsession with Chinese diva Fan Bingbing in the earlier film.
With its a surfeit of energy and eagerness to please, Hollywood Adventures eventually wears itself out, although there’s certainly some laughs to be had, especially in the first half before the film buys into its oft-repeated line, “In Hollywood, anything is possible.”