Netflix has had a solid year of movies, all things considered. Three of their originals are on our list of the best movies of 2023 so far, and that doesn’t even include Extraction 2 or the other solid genre movies that may not clear the bar of greatness but still deliver on Quality Thrills.
The latest hit on the platform is Hidden Strike, which is not technically a Netflix original but made its long-awaited premiere in July after spending more than five years in post-production. It’s been the No. 1 movie on Netflix pretty much since it arrived, unseating the Adam Devine/Ellen Barkin/Pierce Brosnan comedy The Out-Laws and beating out They Cloned Tyrone.
Hidden Strike is a no-brainer combination of two of the most charismatic action stars of their generations, pairing the legendary Jackie Chan with John Cena. The movie spent so long in development that Cena replaced Sylvester Stallone, who couldn’t make the movie work because of commitments to Creed II. Fast-forward through about five years of post-production, and Hidden Strike comes out after Creed III. But what sounds like a worst-case scenario is actually perfect Netflix fodder.
While the star pairing suggests an action comedy, Hidden Strike doesn’t actually settle into that groove until about 40 minutes in, when Chan and Cena’s characters first meet up (and play catch). Before that, it’s a pretty serious “protect the convoy” movie, with plenty of explosions and man-made sandstorms (non-Darude variant).
Chan plays commander Dragon Luo Feng, sent to Iraq to safely transport oil refinery workers across the “Highway of Death” to Baghdad; Cena co-stars as Chris Van Horne, a former mercenary now living in an Iraqi village and helping take care of local children who is tricked by his brother to hijack Dragon’s convoy (heading off spoiler complaints by letting you know the movie telegraphs this extremely clearly).
Hidden Strike’s post-production woes are definitely apparent, both in the extreme tonal shift of the movie and in some janky backdrops that take the concept of the “uncanny valley” to locations. But once Hidden Strike puts Chan and Cena on screen together, the movie transforms into a breezy (and silly) fun time.
Chan and Cena are both very funny action stars whose physicalities are wildly different. Director Scott Waugh plays their styles off each other for both humor and different styles of action, leaning on Cena’s brute strength and Chan’s still-remarkable acrobatic skills and physical comedy chops. The funniest recurring bit in the movie is the pair’s efforts to communicate in hand signals, which end up in some crossed wires as they differ on whether a sign means “six o’clock” or “let’s have a beer.” Both Chan and Cena (and their respective characters) speak English and Mandarin fluently, which adds another fun wrinkle to the “odd couple action comedy” format, as they switch back and forth between the two languages.
Waugh, a former stunt performer (and brother of fellow stunt-performer-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh), is best known for Act of Valor, Need for Speed, and will soon be back with September’s Expend4bles. He’s a strong pick for this type of material; Waugh and members of the Jackie Chan stunt team help the action stand out , lending even the more serious first part of the movie fun choreography and camera movements. The convoy hijacking is thrilling, with fun wirework stunts and a great fight scene on one of the buses that sends a character (and the camera) flying out of the front window and under the roaring bus. The aforementioned man-made sandstorm adds a Dune-lite flair to the proceedings. Things really go off the rails in the second half — you have to see Chan’s foam party fight to believe it.
Hidden Strike feels a bit like a throwback to Chan’s classic era of Hong Kong action comedies — certainly more so than some of the more serious fare he’s starred in recently. The movie even has a blooper reel (including an extremely X-rated improvised joke from Cena), a lost art in modern action comedies. It’s that fun attitude in the back half of the movie that helps make Hidden Strike a good time, even with the lengthy production.
Hidden Strike is now streaming on Netflix.