Incidentally, this isn't too far from the truth. As reality would have it, Crowe (a main character in Iron Fists) spent all of ten days on set, channeling legendarily unhinged and deceased Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard. Said Robert "RZA" Diggs — the film's director and famed Wu-Tang producer — in the movie's press packet:
"My cousin's not here anymore, but I wanted his spirit in the film. Russell and I talked about it, and he loved the idea." The mysterious Jack Knife, an opium-addicted soldier enamored of China named for his weapon of choice, even has a signature jaw harp audio cue reminiscent of ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya."
Yes, we now live in a world in which Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe is making entrances to musical strains of "Ooh baby, I like it raw," eviscerating henchmen with a clockwork pistol/knife/chainsaw and undulating his mug like Kermit the Frog does when he's upset. This is definitely something that happened.
Later, he canoodles with a trio of brothel workers, sporting a pince-nez and some The Insider-ish body mass, an ensemble that gives him the mien of a stoned Benjamin Franklin. And after that, we see Crowe in the most vaudevillian fake Asian disguise since Sean Connery and his eyebrows went undercover in You Only Live Twice.
It's a performance on par with Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the kind of performance where you can imagine the actor peering over the horizon and exclaiming, "What ho, I do believe they are making a motion picture over yon. Time to gesticulate like the talkies haven't been invented yet!"
Crowe's jolly Big Baby Jesus impersonation aside, The Man With The Iron Fists is entertaining if uneven. I finally had the chance to check it out once New York's post-hurricane transit system went back to quasi-normal. The plot — some RZA-narrated wuxia boilerplate about governors, gold robberies, and warring clans — swings between the weirdo solemnity of Ghost Dog with the flamboyance of Kool Keith's Sprite commericals.
The film definitely knows it's over the top, but it doesn't 100% commit to the camp, perhaps in fear of alienating those uninitiated viewers unaware that kung fu cinema can fly off the rails in goddamn spectacular ways.
We therefore end up with goofy-great scenes of the "Gemini Killers" fighting with deadly piggyback rides interposed with deathly serious sequences of the RZA as an American ex-slave making ends meet as a chi-channeling blacksmith.
These two instincts don't gel entirely, which I suppose is part of its charm, depending on your tolerance for B-movies that teeter on the edge of super-fan self-awareness and endearing cluelessness. In any case, Crowe's a hoot, RZA's instrumentals mostly deliver (save the occasional and baffling metal guitar), and I left the theater not lamenting that this movie exists. Good hustle, everybody.