Before sitting down to watch a movie like Triple Threat, the new adrenaline-filled action movie that brings together three of the genre’s biggest Asian stars, you have to ask yourself what you want out of a movie like this. If you’re looking for an intriguing plot, deep characters, or striking dialogue, then maybe you should save yourself the stream. But if you’re after memorable set-pieces, dizzying fights, and shoot ‘em up thrills… well, you still may want to precede with caution.
Bringing together Iko Uwais (The Raid), Tony Jaa (Ong Bak), and Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi) for a gritty, no holds barred action romp was a genre fan’s dream, and throwing in VOD All-Stars like Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite), Scott Adkins (The Expendables 2) and Michael Bisping (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) seemed like an embarrassment of badass riches. However, Triple Threat wastes most of its thankfully brief 95-minute runtime on barely coherent shootouts, tired clichés, and bizarre editing that throws off the film’s momentum.
The razor-thin plot centers on a group of assassins, anchored by White, Adkins, and Bisping, planning to kill an heiress (Celina Jade) who is intent on using her fortune to wipe out a powerful crime syndicate in a fictional Southeast Asian country. Payu (Jaa) and Long Fei (Chen) are working alongside the group as mercenaries, under the impression that they’re on a humanitarian mission to recuse hostages. Once the group decimates a compound in the jungle, leaving only one survivor, Jaka (Uwais), Payu, and Long Fei are double-crossed, leaving the three no other choice but to team up to take down the assassins.
It wasn’t expected that Triple Threat would have a tightly wound plot, but our heroes come together and break apart so often and haphazardly that even the simplest logline gets a little confusing now and then. Jaa, Chen, and Uwais are asked to toggle back and forth between their native tongues and English, and while the effort is commendable, the English scenes feel stilted. All of the performances come across as a bit wooden, except for Micheal Jai White, who is clearly having a blast hamming it up as a one-dimensional villain. None of this would particularly matter if the action scenes lived up to the promise that the names involved suggest, but they fall flat as well.
It’s genuinely thrilling to watch Jaa, Chen, and Uwais perform their mixed-martial arts heroics against one another and others, but too often the characters are stuck in obnoxious fire fights, with bad sound effects and choppy editing. Director Jesse V. Johnson wisely uses a handheld camera in the fight scenes to give them a more immediate, visceral feeling, but he bogs them down with unnecessary slow motion and cuts to other proceedings. For instance, the film’s climax finds all three of our heroes locked in hand to hand battles to the death, but by cutting between the three simultaneously, none of the fights are able to build tension or momentum.
The other problem is the lack of memorable set-pieces or scenes that are memorable for the right reasons. A police precinct assault flies by with way too many squibs detonating and not enough fighting. A race through the streets inexplicably ends when one character throws himself head first into a moving vehicle. An underground fighting ring gives the movie its best location and slice of action, but its unfortunately short-lived. And when the film slows down to give some shading to its characters, it’s completely awkward and painful.
While featuring a few glimpses of the tight fight choreography and stunning combat work one would expect from the films’ stars, Triple Threat is ultimately a disappointing mash-up. You’ll spend most of the film’s running time hoping that this trio gets to work together again in a film worthy of their talents. Instead of spending time with Triple Threat, just fire up The Raid again.
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.