Brother and Bottle Rocket costar Luke has fared no better, but his bad luck can be blamed on his good looks: Luke, hiding behind blank brown eyes, is easy to underestimate. Owen, on the other hand, possesses a far deeper, darker talent; his aw-dude exterior hints at a stormy interior, a sort of calm brutality within. Hampton Fancher, The Minus Man's writer-director, exploited it; in that film, Wilson exudes a cool seething, until even his shrugs seem to contain a hidden cruelty. Tom Dey, a first-time director more concerned with stunts and speech coaches, has little interest in such bothersome things as characterization and nuance.
Shanghai Noon's Roy bears more than a passing resemblance to Bottle Rocket's Dignan: Both men dream of being outlaws, when in truth they can't even load a gun. Roy's such a mess even the villainous Marshal Van Cleef (Xander Berkeley) can't believe he's chasing this guy. "How do you survive out here?" wonders Van Cleef -- whose name pays homage to Leone heavy Lee Van Cleef. Roy's delighted when he finds his name and picture on a Most Wanted poster, though he's disappointed to find Chon is worth more and has a nifty nickname, Shanghai Kid, to boot.
Owen Wilson (left) and Jackie Chan serve up a stale Texas rehash
Like Dignan, Roy wants to be immortal; he echoes a line from Bottle Rocket when he insists Chon go ahead, leaving him to face off against his old gang. "They can't touch me," he drawls, rewriting the touching, funny climax from Bottle Rocket. Roy imagines himself some figure in a history book; the punch line, revealed in the film's final scene, is that he is. Wilson's laconic energy keeps the film moving; he's breezy enough to carry this tissue paper till the very end.
Chan, on the other hand, is the closer who's lost five miles an hour off his fastball; it's not enough to render him expendable, but it's just enough to make him vulnerable. The 46-year-old looks as though he's moving in slow motion -- which is even played for gags in one scene, in which he throws tomahawks at two Native American baddies, who snatch them from the wind and hurl them right back. And in the post-Matrix era, his feats seem somehow tame, even cute -- holdovers from a simpler era, when a man didn't need wires and stop-action, digitized tricks to prove his merit. What's dazzling about Jackie Chan is that he can still move at all.