It takes a special kind of action director to use chaotic, human-filled public spaces for high-energy foot chases, auto stunts and gun battles yet never once get under the skin with a sense of genuine danger. Dante Lam's "The Viral Factor" is instead a uniquely frenetic hodgepodge of story lures.
It starts in Jordan with a messy firefight in which good cop (Jay Chou, Kato from "The Green Hornet") survives a bullet to the head, ends in a three-way standoff in the cramped corridors of Kuala Lumpur's shipping yards between long-lost brothers and an arms trader's top goon (Andy Tien) and in between traffics in biological weapon villainy, kidnapping, police corruption and dysfunctional family drama. And more shootouts.
Although scaled to match the kind of adrenaline spectacles produced by Hollywood, Lam is clearly working a John Woo vibe here of operatically staged action laced with pumped-up personal stakes. But although steeped in show-offy camera work and offbeat bursts of emotion — the roguishly effective Nicholas Tse, as the criminal sibling Chou's character never knew he had, breaks down in tears not once but twice — there's little of Woo's instinctual feel for where mayhem and melodrama intersect.
"The Viral Factor." Unrated. In Mandarin, Cantonese and English, with English and Chinese subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. At AMC Atlantic Times 14, Monterey Park; AMC Puente Hills 20, Rowland Heights; AMC Santa Anita 16, Arcadia.