"Rumble in the Bronx" may or may not make Jackie Chan as large a star in America as he is in Asia, but it certainly will appeal to a certain kind of person.
That would be the person who a.) lives and b.) breathes.
Chan is capable of making real movies, as his great Hong Kong drama "Police Story" demonstrated, but this one is hardly in that category. Consider it more a goof, a laugh, a platform for showing off the banty guy's awesome physical skills as martial artist and absolutely fearless stuntman.
The plot is gibberish strained through a sieve of nonsense and sprinkled with a paprika of idiocy. To make it even more preposterous, it turns out that "Bronx" is hardly an operative word, at least unless there are mountain backdrops, palm trees and friendly Hovercrafts somewhere in New York City's least lovely borough.
Some plot: Jackie, as one Keung, comes to the United States to attend his uncle's wedding and ends up defending a supermarket (!) from a generic motorcycle gang straight out of "Starsky and Hutch"; at the halfway point, through the play of dumb coincidence, a new gang of villains is introduced, a diamond-stealing crew of rejects from "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man."
It's just fights followed by stunts followed by fights followed by stunts. An actual movie almost never breaks out.
What viewers new to Chan will discover is that he's not nearly as bloody-minded as previous Hong Kong emigre John ("Broken Arrow") Woo, who kills extras in the zillions amid gurgling blood spouts. Chan kills nobody, or at least almost nobody; his world is kind of zonky, giddy, pretend violence, not so much about hurting people as astonishing the audience.
And there is a lot of astonishment on hand. Chan has what appear to me (no expert) to be superb martial arts skills; he is unbelievably fast.
But even more important is the weird heroic integrity of his work: Those are full-speed blows sizzling by his skull. Those are real automobiles blasting him over their fenders. That's really him leaping from a six-story roof to a fourth-story balcony. That's really him as a human water ski being bounced along the waves at 50 miles or so an hour.
The stunts are full-bore dangerous; a car misses his groin by an inch; an ax handle swung at him hits the wall an inch from his head with such force that it leaves a mean gash in the plaster.
Standard Chan protocol calls for out-takes to be shown during the credits, where you see how many times the stunts misfired as he was shooting. In one, he breaks his ankle. The next day, he pulls on a rubber disguise sneaker over his new cast, and keeps going, laughing all the way. Amazing.
'Rumble in the Bronx'
Starring: Jackie Chan
Directed by: Stanley Tong
Released by: New Line
Sun Score: ***