The zany parody of '70s Hong Kong martial arts movies is the brainchild of actor/writer/director/all-around silly guy Steve Oedekerk, writer of such films as “Patch Adams,” the Eddie Murphy remake of “The Nutty Professor” and “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls,” which he directed. Some may also remember Oedekerk as a disco-dancing security guard in “Nothing to Lose,” a scene-stealing cameo that managed to upstage stars Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence. In “Kung Pow,” however, it's all Oedekerk, all the time--writer, director, producer, voice-over artist and star--as pure a one-man show as the movies have seen since the heyday of Jerry Lewis. The model for “Kung Pow,” however, is actually a Woody Allen movie--1966's “What's Up, Tiger Lily?”, in which Allen redubbed a Japanese spy movie with decidedly mixed results. Here, Oedekerk does Allen one better here by not only redubbing every character in the 1976 kung fu favorite “Tiger and Crane Fist” (aka “Savage Killers”) all by himself, but also digitally altering the film so as to insert himself in place of the original director and star, the great Jimmy Wang Yu. And that, along with a few new sequences, some added shots and a little re-editing, is the very thin joke on which “Kung Pow” builds its comedy.
It's an admittedly juvenile gag, the kind of thing that a group of 13-year-old boys might cook up while watching a flick like “Tiger and Crane Fist” (though hardly any more juvenile than what Oedekerk delivered in “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”). Unfortunately, given how few people are actually familiar enough with '70s-era kung fu movies (mostly unsophisticated predecessors to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) to get any of the in-jokes, “Kung Pow” appears to be facing an uphill battle.
Not all of the gags are kung fu-related--Oedekerk gets some mileage out of the effects tricks he has used in his popular “Thumb” shorts (“Thumb Wars,” “The Blair Thumb,” “Thumbtanic”) by superimposing a human mouth and eyes on his tongue (a character named “Tonguey” in the movie)--but it's merely one gag among many, the best ones being nothing more than inspired moments of bad overdubbing. The much-touted fight with a CGI cow is another tasteless high point for those who enjoy such things.
Made with Jimmy Wang Yu's cooperation (fans will know Jimmy as the director/star of the classic “Master of the Flying Guillotine” and such early Jackie Chan vehicles as “The Killer Meteors” and “Fantasy Mission Force”), “Kung Pow” is very much an affectionate spoof, an homage that pokes fun while confessing fondness--not necessarily a recipe for great comedy, but an approach which the film's small but specific target audience is sure to appreciate. Starring Steve Oedekerk, Jennifer Tung and Leo Lee. Directed and written by Steve Oedekerk. Produced by Paul Marshal, Tom Koranda and Steve Oedekerk. A 20th Century Fox release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for comic violence, crude and sexual humor. Running time: 82 min