When Bruce Lee died, tragically and way too young in 1973, he'd only logged about 20-some minutes of material for his film Game of Death ... so the opportunistic producers opted to hire a stand-in to replace the legendary martial artist in order to complete the film. A tacky move, to be sure, and one that's caused much consternation among Lee's fans for the past several decades. And now comes a mockumentary that takes careful aim on that unseemly decision ... and it makes for a pretty funny little diversion.
A confident and consistently amusing comedy from Justin Lin, who directed the very fine Better Luck Tomorrow before "going Hollywood" with the empty-headed The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and the nigh-unwatchable Annapolis, Finishing the Game works as sort of a Spinal Tap of the mid-'70s kung fu set. Completely fabricated and admirably on target, Finishing the Game takes square aim at the ways in which Asian performers spent decades pigeonholed into "delivery boy" roles, full-bore "chop socky" caricatures -- and pretty much nothing else, really.
The candidates who are enthusiastically willing to step into Bruce Lee's final role are the egomaniacal Breeze Loo (Roger Fan), the has-been Troy Poon (Dustin Nguyen), the good-natured Cole Kim (Sung Kang), the strangely caucasian Tarrick Tyler (McCaleb Burnett) ... and a doctor of Middle Eastern descent known simply as Raja (Mousa Kraish). Together with a disparate bunch of talentless hopefuls, these kung fu aspirants struggle through an elaborate casting process run by a young (and stupid) director called Ronny Kirschenbaum (Jake Sandvig) and an aggressively silly casting director known as Eloise Gazdag (Meredith Scott Lynn, who almost steals away with the whole silly movie).
Finishing the Game is a fairly scattershot (some might say inconsistent) affair, but when Lin and company are "on," their movie delivers a solid parcel of good, goofy chuckles. It certainly helps that his central cast is rock-solid silly across the board, plus there are a few truly amusing little cameos littered around the edges. (Keep your eyes peeled for a barely recognizable James Franco, playing a humorously ill-fated television star -- plus Ron Jeremy pops up early and wrings a few raunchy yuks out of a fairly obvious sequence.) If a few jokes hit the screen with a mildly audible "thud," just wait for the next ones -- because there's some really witty stuff peppered through this Game.
Equal parts affectionately silly and insightfully satirical (if perhaps only in intermittent fashion), Finishing the Game has a lot of fun poking holes in the Asian stereotypes that have been so annoyingly prevalent in Hollywood for as long as I care to remember. But don't mistake Lin's Game for some sort of overt indictment of Hollywood or finger-pointing diatribe. The canny director seems well aware that he'll make his points a lot more smoothly by delivering them packed beside broad and goofy laughs, and he does so with an impressive consistency. Frankly, I didn't expect a whole lot of laughs from the guy who directed Better Luck Tomorrow and freakin' Annapolis, but hey, I guess that's why we go to the movies.