Sunday, April 10, 2011

Panda? Check. Amazing Adventure? No.: "The Amazing Panda Adventure" (1995)

The Amazing Panda AdventureBratty Ryan (Ryan Slater), perpetuating all stereotypes that Americans are lazy idiots, is shipped off to see his estranged father on a panda reserve in China. No, dad Michael (Stephen Lang) is not a panda, but he is pandacentric, obsessed with the overly cute stuffed animal-looking creatures.

As coincidence would have it, Ryan arrives the exact same day as the Chinese budget committee, who want to close the reserve. A mother panda is trapped by poachers and the cub is kidnapped. Michael gets a bullet in his leg after confronting the Abbott and Costello poachers, and Ryan, old panda expert Chu (Wang Fei), and Chu's cute granddaughter translator Ling (Yi Ding) are left in the Chinese wilderness after Michael takes the panda mom back to the reserve. The trio track the cub back to the poachers and rescue it, but Ling, Ryan, and the cub fall in the river and are carried downstream, washing ashore and totally lost.

In one dopeheaded moment, Ryan decides to abandon the cub in the wild so the reserve will close and Dad will be shipped back home. He decides this is a dumb idea, minutes after the audience has reached the same conclusion, and Ryan, Ling, and the cub fall in the river AGAIN and are swept into a leech infested pond. This triggers another weird scene where Ling and Ryan see each other naked after pulling the blood suckers off themselves. This would be really hot it they both were not about ten years old.

Michael and Chu follow the pair using a panda tracking collar. The poachers also follow. Ryan acts like a typical American brat, and Ling makes "funny" translating mistakes with the English language, while dreaming of visiting our decadent malls. The climax involves an ancient riding mower and a scowling budget committee, but you can probably guess the outcome no matter what.

Christopher Cain did shoot on location in China, but some of the outdoor shots look like the American northwest. The script is strictly predictable fodder. Issues like divorced parents and their neglected kids are glossed over in favor of scenes where the damn cub does something adorable, and the overbearing (ha!) musical soundtrack tells us this. In the more perilous scenes, a panda puppet is used, and Rick Baker's effects are not up to his usual good work.

Slater is really good...at playing a spoiled brat. One bad scene involves the naming of the cub. Ryan settles on "Johnny," after his short fat friend in the states. If the cub's fur, height, and weight were all factors, I would have named it "Ron Jeremy." Lang is too intense in his shallow role, he looks like he is about to tear the limbs off his kid and still have time to wipe out the budget committee with a club. Yi Ding and Wang Fei are also stereotypes, which is sad.

"The Amazing Panda Adventure" is not amazing. I have a feeling "The Unamazing Panda Letdown" was a title not considered marketable. This film should be released back into the wild, never to be observed again. (* *) out of five stars.