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Reviewed by Navin Vembar, © 2008

Format: Movie
By:   Stephen Chow
Genre:   Family Sci-Fi Comedy
Review Date:   March 17, 2008
Audience Rating:   PG
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

Shaolin Soccer’s Stephen Chow writes and directs . . . a family comedy?

I don’t hate kids. I promise. I know I suggested that a teenager should be punched in my review of The Seeker. And I’m about to posit that the young protagonist of Stephen Chow’s CJ7 is potentially sociopathic. Or, at the very least, an asshole. But, I don’t hate kids, really.

Let me present my case. Dicky Chow (Jiao Xu) is the proverbial poor kid in the rich kids’ school. He lives with his father, Ti Chow (Stephen Chow), a construction worker, in a half-demolished building. Ti saves every bit of money he can for his son’s private school, meaning that they are unfortunately left eating rice and rotten apples for dinner. And they follow their meal with a cartoonish cockroach-killing spree.

So, when the kid throws a temper tantrum in a toy store, basically trying to steal an Aibo-like toy called CJ1 that one of the rich students in school has, I was very much not on his side. You smash roaches for fun, kid, are you really expecting that your dad will have the money for that?

I mean, yeah, everyone wants stuff that they can’t have, but the scene in the store just goes on far too long for it to come across as anything but unreasonable and selfish.

Which means, when Ti finds what is essentially a super-cute green alien puppy, which he calls CJ7 in a fit of one-upmanship, and gives it to Dicky, I can’t really think he deserves it. Then Dicky realizes that CJ7 isn’t actually magical as much as a rubbery dog (with some plot-convenient powers), so he throws him away. And stabs him with a banana he found in the trash. Which did nothing to win me over, though the banana thing was pretty funny.

While watching CJ7, I was taken back to the ‘80s and Gremlins. The titular character itself is the cutest little fantastic pet since Gizmo. Very puppy-like. And, as we find, able to take quite a beating at the hands of our protagonists, whose initial reaction to what they think is a high-tech toy is to smash it for fun.

But, thankfully, the little alien has some character. But remember Phoebe Cates’s story about why she doesn’t like Christmas? And how tone-deaf it was? CJ7’s last sequence is a 20-minute version of that speech.

CJ7 has a lot of two things: scenes that go on a little too long and annoyed me, and scenes that add in that extra little bit, a flourish which succeeded in making me laugh. Its schizophrenic approach mixes what are obviously meant to be heartwarming moments of father-son bonding with the over-the top, martial arts slapstick that Chow gave us in Kung-Fu Hustle, except with 8-year olds.

CJ7’s problems are mostly balanced out by Chow’s success in remaking cartoons as live-action films, throwing in a healthy dose of references to other familiar movies. But, only mostly.

Navin Vembar still has bruises from the vicious banana-stabbing he received last week.

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