25 May 1999 | GrammarCub
Dreary, dreadful romantic comedy
"Shanghai Surprise" is an idiotic, out-of-date, poorly-acted, campy action film that wants to be a romantic comedy. Madonna, in her second starring role, had about enough acting talent at this point as a doll. Unfortunately, the doll in this movie comes off looking better than she does.
Madonna, playing a missionary (!) nurse (!!) for a Shanghai mission, is in search of opium (!!!) for medicinal purposes (!!?!!) approaches Sean Penn, an American soldier-of-fortune type who happens to speak Chinese. Penn and Madonna, who were married at the time this film were made, are obviously uncomfortable with the material and do little to justify the film's existence. Penn mugs his way through and attempts to crach a few weak jokes, while Madonna stamps her foot and places her hands on her hips as she squeaks (yes, she squeaks, and you must hear it to believe it) in frustration.
The plot is absolutely ridiculous -- Madonna and Sean Penn chasing after a mysterious cargo of opium known as "Faraday's Flowers" (incidentally, the name of the book this movie is based on) must run from a Chinese gangster with porcelain hands, have a romantic interlude with an Imperial concubine, teach baseball skills to another Chinese gangster, and (boy, aren't we surprised) sleep together to seal a deal.
This movie, like "Mommie Dearest" or "Plan Nine From Outer Space" has immense camp value because it's so deliciously awful. Utterly predictable, insipid, and full of instantly forgettable lines, this movie is the equivalent of the yellow stuff they stick on your nachos at the movie theatres -- it's not really good enough to be real cheese, but it's much cheaper and tastes pretty much the same anyway. This movie isn't even cheesy enough to be cheesy.
Avoid "Shanghai Surprise" unless, like me, you like Madonna WAY too much or if you're just a fan of bad movies.