'The Rookies' Movie Review: Milla Jovovich in a Hong Kong Action Movie

The Rookies obviously cast Milla Jovovich for crossover appeal. Fans who only Jovovich from English-language action movies should prepare themselves for a full-on Hong Kong movie. If this is their first, hopefully it will intrigue them to discover more of the outrageous output of the world’s finest action cinema. 

Milla Jovovich recruits ‘The Rookies’

Zhao Feng (Talu Wang) is an extreme daredevil. During a base jumping stunt, Zhao crashes into a deal gone south. That’s when Bruce (Jovovich) arrives to take out all the bad guys. Bruce leads the Order of the Phantom Knighthood and sees Zhao’s potential as an agent. 

Zhao is a tough study. Though he possesses the physical skills to help the Phantom Knighthood complete missions, he also bumbles through mission briefings and gets basic instructions wrong. 

Hong Kong action takes Milla Jovovich movies to the next level

Jovovich has steadily increased her skills from The Fifth Element through Resident Evil movies. The Hong Kong action of The Rookies allows her to hang from chandeliers and do martial arts, with a double for the more acrobatic moves. Jovovich is still human. 

A car drifting shoot out is fast and furious. Jovovich has those two choice action scenes, but she does send the team on other missions. They perform impressively, too. The most distracting aspect of the action scenes is the outdated hip-hop tracks scoring them. Wasn’t hip-hop driven martial arts over after the Jet Li/DMX cycle? 

Hong Kong movies still get lost in translation

Unfortunately, the available version of The Rookies dubs all the Chinese actors into English, badly. So it really is like watching a Hong Kong movie in the ’90s. It would be less distracting to read subtitles for their original dialogue, and Jovovich still speaks English. 

The Rookies also has the wild tonal shifts of classic Hong Kong movies. The most jarring aspect of that is the extreme slapstick comedy set against intense action. Zhao is mugging and bumbling during exposition for the mission and the artifacts they’re chasing. The Knighthood has a sort of Q lab making gadgets that are absurdly cartoony, not even trying to blend in with spy gear, including a chair that squeezes orange juice with the sitter’s butt. 

Goofy scene transitions render the Indiana Jones red dot as a hyperactive video game. There’s an animated sequence too and undercover costumes are absurdly comical. 

The “comedy” is a lot even for Hong Kong movie fans. It’s not going to win over any converts if The Rookies is your first exposure to Hong Kong style. But, the action is still awesome. And some of the goofy characters don’t all make it through the mission, and their injuries do have gravitas. So, if you do happen to like the wild tonal shifts of The Rookies, there are decades of Hong Kong films just as wild. 

The Rookies is in theaters and VOD April 16.

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