Shanghai Surprise (1986)

Watching this early Madonna starring vehicle, it’s impossible to not understand the root of Madonna’s reputation as the queen of movie bombs. This is really, truly terrible, like several bad movies playing at once: There’s a DOA romance between Madonna and then-husband Sean Penn that is notable for its lack of chemistry, an “Indiana Jones”-style adventure yarn that never comes alive, and a silly, slapstick comedy with pratfalls a’plenty. It’s all a lot to take, and it doesn’t help things that director Jim Goddard seems to have hated shooting in Shanghai, because he goes out of his way to make the city look dirty, unappealing and inhospitable. The acting is atrocious – while most of the blame has been laid at Madonna’s feet over the years (and make no mistake, she’s terrible here), there’s plenty of competition from a perpetually smug, unappealing Penn, while Paul Freeman, Richard Griffiths and Philip Sayer bumble around like they’re in a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s astounding that this movie hasn’t accrued a stronger reputation as a so-bad-it’s-good classic because it’s deserving of the MST3K or Rifftrax treatment.

Rating: ★ (out of 5)

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