Twenty minutes into Scott Waugh’s Hidden Strike, we get a sandstorm. By then, the movie has successfully established an intriguing premise and is heading towards Mad Max: Fury Road territory. In fact, one of the main leads, the living legend Jackie Chan, drives a bus toward the storm, which essentially adds to the thrill quotient of the movie. Considering how the action genre has been reinvigorated lately thanks to the likes of John Wick 4 and Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, it is not surprising to see a movie like Hidden Strike trying to be innovative.
Despite having John Cena and Jackie Chan, two actors you wouldn’t usually associate with the new breed of action movies, Hidden Strike takes off in a fantastic manner. It introduces a world where capitalism is necessarily the main villain and the cause of the suffering of the poor. With a set-up like that, chaos soon follows, and we have our leading men: Chan and Cena are pitted against each other, and a showdown between them awaits on the vast, infinite deserts of a post-apocalyptic China.
But sadly, the fun ends way too soon. Right after the fantastic sandstorm showdown set piece between Team Chan and Team Cena, Hidden Strike decides to become a whole different movie. In the new route it follows, Cena and Chan inevitably become buddies. Which inadvertently brings in a lot of comedy, most of which fails to tickle. In recent years, we have seen that Cena can pull off comedies when he is handled right.
James Gunn’s Suicide Squad and the subsequent spin-off Peacemaker, in which Cena plays the titular role, are glorious examples of that. And here, too, he tries. But he has almost nothing to work with. The writing is subpar, the physical comedy looks dated, and most importantly, Chan looks uninterested with a mostly stoic face. With the movie basically turning into a kind of action comedy that has been done to death, the very important socio-political angle of it is obviously thrown into the trash. And as you would expect, it has been replaced by a staple villain, played by actor Pilou Asbæk, a skilled Danish actor who is known to the world for playing the tyrannical Euron Greyjoy in HBO’s Game Of Thrones.
It hardly matters what the story is, but Hidden Strike does attempt to build one. There is this huge company that runs the oil industry. As the company is repeatedly attacked by mercenaries, their management decides to move things to a much more secure, green zone section. But the road to there is filled with many threats, mostly posed by the poor that the company keeps exploiting. So they hire ex-special forces officer Chan, who is literally called Dragon in the movie.
Meanwhile, the group of mercenaries go to Chris (Cena), also an ex-special forces member who now lives in the village and does something as novel as run an orphanage. The mercenaries are led by Chris’s brother Henry, who asks Chris to intervene in the transport and kidnap the company’s top boss, a professor. But Chris refuses to take part in it. However, that soon changes thanks to a terrible water crisis, for which the only fix is a lot of money. So, Chris takes the assignment and successfully creates a sandstorm, and along with his brother’s group, he manages to kidnap the professor and some other company employees. But soon, he finds out who the mastermind behind the whole thing is—Owen, who happens to be this disgruntled company employee on the warpath. Naturally, Chris leaves the B-team and joins Dragon’s A-team. From there on, it’s all good guys versus bad guys, with a climax that you could probably see coming from another galaxy. There is an estranged father-daughter arc between Dragon and his daughter Mei, who is an engineer for the company. However, Chris hitting on Mei without knowing who her father is is like comedy from the era of dinosaurs.
What I find particularly sad is that despite having such a brilliant, gripping start, the movie made the conscious choice of going basic and bland and relying on the big names. Not that I intend to judge any director based on his previous work but given that an example of Waugh’s previous work happens to be the intolerable Need For Speed movie, a conclusion can be drawn that the man has very limited range. Otherwise, who would squander the opportunity of making a road movie with a relentless battle of wits between Jackie Chan and John Cena?
It’s not that I have anything against the comedy genre or its infusion in action films. The very recent yellow car scene in Rome from the latest installment of Mission Impossible is a great example of how to perfectly blend comedy in a high-octane action movie. But this movie sadly lacks that. Baring its opening twenty minutes, everything is so mediocre here. Even the selling point, which is the action, is not phenomenal enough to keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire runtime. This is unforgivable, as I don’t see this movie having any budget constraints. In a strange way, Hidden Strike resembles Sam Hargrave’s Extraction 2 (2023), which is a much better movie in every possible way but also falls into the category of starting solid but going downwards from there. Like the rip-roaring first action sequence of Extraction 2, which was skillfully made in a way so that it looked like a single take, Hidden Strike also has a fascinating sandstorm sequence, which is the culmination of a brilliant build-up.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to whether or not you should watch a certain movie—Hidden Strike, in this case. Regarding that, I have got to say that while I don’t particularly mind watching it, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone either. There are tons of better action movies in the world that are a hundred times more fun than this. If we are spoiled for choices, then why surrender ourselves to sheer mediocrity?