Night Stalker

Bill Gibron

The remake of the Darren McGavin vehicle derives from the adventures of Mulder and Scully, down to the male/female tag team of investigators and a secret conspiracy involving mysterious deaths, unexplained body markings, and brooding supernatural forces..

Night Stalker

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm
Cast: Stuart Townsend, Gabrielle Union, Cotter Smith, Eric Jungmann
Network: ABC

With a pedigree both problematic ("inspired by" a well loved cult series) and intriguing (the revamp is helmed by X-Files scribe Frank Spotnitz), ABC's Night Stalker is not the catastrophe it sounds like. A "reimagining" of Dan Curtis' Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974), it seemed to be treading on sacred soil. But Spotnitz promised to be as faithful as possible to the source material, and the creator of his previous gig, Chris Carter, swore that the Darren McGavin vehicle was the inspiration for all the "truth is out there" terrors.

What a difference a few months makes. Obviously mangled by studio heads who figure there's a "formula" for every successful show, Night Stalker now derives from the adventures of Mulder and Scully, down to the male/female tag team of investigators and a secret conspiracy involving mysterious deaths, unexplained body markings, and brooding supernatural forces. Spotnitz also throws in a little Fugitive (Kolchak is a "suspect" in the death of his wife, and has his own personal FBI agent hot on his case) and even Millennium. Imagine that grim, misunderstood serial killer show without Lance Henricksen: not so promising.

But, despite these obvious missteps and in between the blatant attempts to appease original fans, Night Stalker shows promise. In the pilot, Kolchak (U.K. pretty boy Stuart Townsend) arrives in the City of Angels after fleeing Las Vegas and his past (dead wife, police inquest). He winds up working for old pal Tony Vincenzo (Cotter Smith), his first story remarkably similar to the facts surrounding his spouse's brutal murder. Of course, he has a run-in with senior crime reporter Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union) and her Jimmy Olsen wannabe sidekick Jain (Eric Jungmann). Everyone thinks Kolchak is a crackpot when he suggests the killer may not be human, at least until a suspense sequence face-off makes believers out of his coworkers.

This set-up allows for nice interplay between Kolchak and Perri (during one memorable exchange, Kolchack reveals his horrible story) and Vincenzo has transformed from Simon Oakland's hyperactive hollering machine to a more reasonable and loyal friend to Carl. At the same time, these relationships suggest where Night Stalker goes wrong. Fans of the original show don't want a hero. They want the irascible everyman trying to convince the world that evil is real.

McGavin's Kolchak was a lovable loser. His reporter was ethically challenged, scrupulously unscrupulous, and hell-bent on uncovering the supernatural beneath workaday surfaces. Our new Kolchak is driven, a regular journalist only recently converted to the paranormal and the possibilities of unwelcome ethereal forces. He made his name uncovering financial scams and corrupt politicians, not discovering zombies and unmasking werewolves. Gone are the "fearless vampire hunter" days. Welcome to the new age of moody music montages denoting introspection and doubt.

Actually, the atmosphere of unknown, simmering menace is one of the remake's welcome changes. Unlike his past incarnation, this Kolchak is not a kook, but a considered man who may be onto something unexplainable. The original Night Stalker never once hinted that its horrors were not be the work of otherworldly forces, explicitly showing a headless motorcycle rider, a Native American spirit, and a Godzilla-like lizard man in Chicago's underground, for better or worse. Today, the "whatzit" is glimpsed in brief, decidedly dark shots. We never get the full-on F/X shot, just more endless conversations questioning its existence.

Several elements in the pilot (Kolchak's story, the Las Vegas connection with Vincenzo) could have been withheld until further down the seasonal run. By springing all the backstory in this initial episode, it is hard to fathom what additional underlying dramas Night Stalker can uncover. There is also an obvious attempt to create a collective reason to tie all of Kolchak's suspicions together (hello, new mythology), meaning we might not see the "monster of the week" mandate that made the original show such a treat.

Still, like that baffling body mark that appears in so many of Kolchak's crime scene photos, the show sustains a kernel of promise. At its core, Night Stalker is about a man who is driven, caught up in the inexplicable. Campy and crude, the original got by on its excruciatingly likeable lead. If Night Stalker can trim the formulaic fat and be consistent with the creepshow, it can succeed. It needs to distance itself from both the '70s and the '90s. Otherwise, all we are left with is memories of better shows, and that's one legacy this series can't sustain.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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