Early on in Hidden Strike, an action-comedy whose humor comes less from the jokes than the bizarre nature of every element of its presentation, we get one of the most strange character introductions put to screen in some time. After a more straight-faced one for Jackie Chan’s Luo Feng, we then shift to a scene elsewhere that sets the tone for what is in store. It is there where we see John Cena’s Chris Van Horne standing by a car for a deal with a group of armed characters in the middle of the desert. Did I say desert? What I should have said was one of the most cartoonish CGI approximations of one where it doesn’t feel like the characters are even in the same room, let alone actually talking to each other. If only this had been more integral to the otherwise standard film. Perhaps it would have been more bonkers as opposed to persistently boring. Instead, it is the worst thing an action film can possibly be: forgettable.

The story, for what little it matters, is of two ex-special forces soldiers who find themselves brought together for a common goal. They must battle against thinly sketched villains on the infamous “Highway of Death” in Baghdad. While Chris was initially part of a group of mercenaries on the other side, he is supposedly a good guy at heart. We know this because he plays catch with a kid and seems vaguely concerned about the state of this corner of the world where he is a hired gun. When he is subsequently betrayed and aligns himself with Luo, the goofy duo will have to face down a variety of enemies who want to take them down. At least, that is eventually what we halfheartedly get. It is a meandering movie that frequently seems like it wants to create something resembling George Miller’s magnificent Mad Max: Fury Road, but is revealed to be nothing more than a cheap imitation. Directed by Scott Waugh, who previously made the inert Need for Speed adaptation and is behind the upcoming Expendables 4, what holds this film back from being more unrestrained fun is both its belabored setup and the general tediousness with which it all then unravels. For every unintentionally funny visual or clunky line of dialogue, most of it ends up going in circles.

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Banal Buddy Comedy or Lackluster Action Film? ‘Hidden Strike’ Is Both

Image via XYZ Films

The issues at the core of the film are structural in a narrative sense and technical in terms of its presentation. It is nearly an hour before the leads even meet up, which is supposedly the whole premise of the movie, with this buildup all feeling like it is just filling time until we do. The first full scene they share is defined by slapstick that feels like it could have been lifted from the Rush Hour films which, while hardly the pinnacle of action cinema, at least felt grounded in a reality that helped give the jokes some actual weight. When they get pinned down, even the bullets supposedly making contact all around them never feel real for even a second. It makes the deadly game of hot potato the two must play to throw grenades back to defend themselves feel stiff as opposed to silly. What is meant to endear us to them in the hopes of creating a sense of camaraderie is too flimsy and forced to be convincing. It is always a bad sign when the blooper reel (remember those?) that runs during the credits sees each of them having better chemistry and comedic timing than anything in the actual film.

Both the action and the story feel like it is just checking boxes with no real heft behind them. Even when they eventually go head-to-head with the villainous Pilou Asbæk, most known for Game of Thrones who was also wonderfully menacing in last year’s Run Sweetheart Run, the foundation wasn’t there to make this feel remotely significant. The greatest problem is that Cena and Chan can only do so much as they navigate an otherwise hollow film that gets hopelessly lost in a CGI desert purgatory. The poor effects only make it feel like you’re having a fever dream from which you can’t wake up. There is a world in which the film leaned into this more to give the otherwise empty experience something resembling life. It wasn’t ever going to be something like last year’s outstanding RRR, but one could at least hope for something close to it. Instead, we get a more generic story about an item being retrieved, a humdrum heist that is without even a hint of any thrills, and a whole lot of vamping. One moment that encapsulates the experience is when characters are doing some so-so schtick in a moderately serious situation at night only for us to suddenly cut to the next day. While it is clear this is meant to be about launching us into the anti-climatic climax of the film, there is no rhythm to any of it. It merely goes through the motions without any creativity to be seen for miles.

‘Hidden Strike’ Lacks a Prevailing Punch

A still from Hidden Strike.
Image via XYZ Films

Near the end, there is a moment where the action grinds to a halt for Cena to riff a bit on the recurring question of a nickname he was trying to come up with for a forgettable mid-level antagonist. Rather than feel like a rewarding punchline that we had been waiting for with bated breath, clumsy execution makes it fall flat. When the duo then splits up to try to stop the heist to save the day or whatever, the sequences with Chan aren’t terrible as he takes part in a leaping battle of stunts. Even if it isn’t the most well-edited action scene you’re ever likely to see, with its cuts hiding some of the rough edges and breaking the immersion we have with the fight, at least it feels like there was something resembling a vision to its staging. The one with Cena? More of the same with poor effects that never for a second create any sense of investment. That this becomes the culmination of the movie, the supposed big finale, is a testament to just how tepid the whole film was. Even when it tosses everything it can at the screen, it all comes crashing down once more. The only question you have left is if a flop of a movie is dumped on streaming and no one is around to see it, does it still land with a thud?

Rating: D

The Big Picture

  • Hidden Strike is an abysmal action-comedy with cartoonish CGI presentation and flat characters.
  • John Cena and Jackie Chan can’t save the film from its meandering plot, lackluster action, and generally poor construction.
  • Hidden Strike ultimately falls flat and is a forgettable, tedious film.

Hidden Strike is now streaming on Netflix.

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