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'The Forbidden Kingdom'

Theoretically based on a Chinese epic, this brightly idiotic fantasy is really The Wizard of Oz in martial-arts drag.

All-American Judy ... er, Jason (Michael Angarano) gets transported magically to an unfamiliar world (ancient China) where he must deal with all manner of odd folks: kickboxing, Munchkin-like urchins, a floating white-haired witch, a flying monkey king, a magician emperor who lives in a far-off palace.

In place of ruby slippers, Jason has a magical staff he must deliver to a Jade Palace (at one point, he even travels on a yellow dirt road) to lift a curse. This requiring helpers, he meets three along the way — Jackie Chan, tipsy and rubber-limbed, Jet Li, stoic and stiff-backed, and Yifei Liu, courageous beyond what anyone expects.

Much kickboxing, karate-chopping and choreographed wire-work later, Jason finally arrives at the Jade Palace, and when the Wiz ... er, the Jade Emperor asks him what he wants, he says he'd really like to go home. (Couldn't he just click his heels?)

With flat dialogue, routine performances and big Jackie Chan-Jet Li match-ups largely obscured by all the fabric the two stars come swathed in, Forbidden Kingdom may do some business, but it isn't going to send anyone over the rainbow.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.