For those unfamiliar with the Pang brothers' audacious 1999 "Bangkok Dangerous," the new version starring Nicolas Cage will seem like any other fast-food bullet ballet. Viewers who recall that original burst of adrenaline, however, will be left with hunger pangs.
The two movies share a title, directors, character names -- and little else. Even the city in this edition feels less like the seamy, gritty, you-are-there Bangkok of the first film than some scrubbed, polished, Vegas notion of the Thai capital. Although the uninitiated might not know what they're missing, there's not much otherwise to hook them in what becomes a standard tired-warrior-finds-meaning-of-life, wants-out-of-the-killing-biz yarn.
Cage plays Joe, a stoic assassin who could use some Zoloft but instead sullenly drifts from murder to murder. In Bangkok to execute a series of tasks, he hires Kong, a handsome local petty crook (Shahkrit Yamnarm), as an errand boy and inexplicably but inevitably befriends him. There's a love interest too, as Joe becomes bewitched by cute, deaf Fon (Charlie Young) (that's a woman; it's not that interesting a film). Will Joe connect with his humanity? Will the bad guys inspire a hail of hot lead? Will anything happen that you haven't seen before?
Yes, yes and not really. There is a handful of visual touches that support the Pangs' reputation as cinema stylists. Otherwise, there's nothing new here. The two most memorable aspects of the original -- a scrappy deaf-mute assassin lead (Kong, not Joe, in that version) and a seedy, visceral visit to the titular city -- survive only in pieces.
Jason Richman's mimeographed screenplay offers such assassin-fest gems as, "Don't pull the trigger; squeeze." It's also telling that, in the new film, Kong is reduced to the Gunga Din role while the exotic object of affection for the powerful American takes on the original lead's muteness. Losing those qualities that made the protagonist unique reduces Cage's character to a Frankenstein's monster of previous screen killers, minus the spark that might have animated it.
The virtues of this film -- better called "Bangkok Dangerous: The Vegas Experience!" -- are well spaced. There's a charming restaurant scene, some nifty hand-to-hand combat and the cast is great looking. But pretty much all the things that made the original so original are filtered out of this un-original.
"Bangkok Dangerous." MPAA rating: R for violence, language and some sexuality. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In general release.