Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade concerns a plot hatched by an evil Roman consul, Tiberius (Adrien Brody), to gain predominate control of the Silk Road, the vast network of trade routes that connected Europe to Asia, pivotally influencing the development of China, Iran, and India, among many others, over the course of several centuries. The film is specifically set in Western China in the year 48 B.C., during the reign of the Han Dynasty, and Huo An (Jackie Chan) is the captain of the Silk Road Protection Squad, which seeks to peacefully settle altercations that inevitably break out along the legendary expanse of land. Huo An, a prototypical Chan character, is earnest and bumbling, though pretty good with his hands and feet when the chips are down. And the chips go tumbling when Tiberius blows in with his army and his convoluted family squabbles, which can be summed up in a sentence, but which are, for mysterious reasons, murkily alluded to for the better part of the film’s first bloated, pageantry-rich hour. Eventually, Huo An teams up with Lucius (John Cusack), a defected Roman general seeking to protect an innocent, memorably annoying royal child (Jozef Waite), so as to halt Tiberius’s blossoming war campaign.
But historical context doesn’t really matter here; it’s grist for another sword-and-sandal mill that’s rich in slumming actors who’ve been ludicrously cast against type for their supposed international marquee value, and who’re primarily charged with standing against vast landscapes that are so obviously computer-augmented as to resemble the animation that might’ve appeared in the narrative sections of a 20-year-old video game. The identities of the soldiers stabbing, kicking, gutting, and rushing one another are negligible to the narrative’s nonexistent emotional center; they could all be orcs, for all that Lee cares. This unsurprisingly generalist atmosphere, in which all countries of all eras appear to exist at once in a nearly Brechtian stew of interchangeability, wouldn’t matter much if the story or action were any good, but they’re both incoherent.
The film abounds almost exclusively in montages, either of cacophonous battle scenes straight out of the frantically edited Gladiator playbook, or of various Chinese/Roman teambuilding activities that lead to Huo An and Lucius becoming best friends over the course of time that it would roughly take for one to enjoy a hot, leisurely tea. To be fair, though, this version of the film runs over 20 minutes shorter than the cut that’s been shown internationally, though this critic suspects those trims to represent an act of mercy rather than sabotage.
Dragon Blade is slacker and even less involving than the similarly terrible global kill-fest Last Knights, but easier to watch for the inadvertent camp value of two of the prominent performances. There are few actors more contemporarily American than Cusack and Brody, the film’s dueling Roman warlords. Cusack barely bothers with the pretense of acting, seemingly congratulating himself for maintaining a straight face throughout the ridiculous situations he’s given to play. Meanwhile, Brody continues his bid to usurp Nicolas Cage’s throne as the most gifted actor inexplicably drawn over and over again to VOD junk. Sporting a memorably Cage-ian mullet, rocking a vaguely British accent for no discernable reason, Brody makes on an ongoing fetish of his badness, steering Dragon Blade into a realm of grade-Z lunacy.