For all its convoluted plotting, Tony Jaa's new vehicle The Protector really tells an archetypal tale: martial artist has elephants, martial artists loses elephants, martial artist slaughters a small army of poorly differentiated goons and henchmen in his bid to get his beloved elephants back. In a plot that makes Snakes On A Plane look positively neo-realist, Jaa (Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior) stars as part of a secret brotherhood assigned with protecting elephants renowned for their physical and spiritual qualities. (How exactly does one determine an elephant's spiritual qualities?) When his beloved pachyderms are stolen and transported to Australia, Jaa heads down under to retrieve them and execute swift justice on anyone who gets in his way.
A spirit of utter shamelessness rules over The Protector. In a thankfully characteristic sequence, a sneering bad guy unleashes a signal that mysteriously summons a slew of Mountain Dew-slamming, totally x-treme rollerblading and biking thrill-seekers to take on Jaa. In another, a hooker with a heart of gold performs an ostensibly sultry mud-bath striptease for a corrupt law-enforcement officer. If The Protector had been filmed in 1986, the filmmakers damn sure would have found a way to awkwardly insert a gratuitous breakdancing scene.
It inexplicably took five, count 'em, five writers to pen the film, though audiences can be forgiven for assuming it was actually dreamed up by a thousand monkeys at typewriters. The stoic Jaa seems to deliver roughly one monosyllabic line for every 30 bad guys he murders; like his hero Jackie Chan, Jaa is content to let his expressive face and righteous fists and feet of fury do his communicating for him. Also like Chan, Jaa is justly revered for his almost preternatural physical prowess, and for doing his own stunts. In The Protector's most exhilarating sequence, Jaa succinctly dispatches a small army of goons and henchmen in a seemingly uninterrupted single take that goes on for many long minutes. Jaa's ingratiatingly ridiculous Protector delivers a steady stream of cheap B-movie thrills, plus two positive messages for young people: Be nice to animals, and when in doubt, always aim for the tendons.