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'Protector' fights and wins

Thailand's Tony Jaa is a martial-arts tornado and the chiropractor from hell.

In ``The Protector," dozens of anonymous goons in black suits (I lost count at 30) wait their turn to attack Jaa and for Jaa, in turn, to crack a forearm with the back of his leg or use his knee to snap a jaw. The men who run up to him are brave and stupid. During that one dazzlingly absurd sequence, if the sight of dudes having their spines busted and tossed onto a pile grows tiresome (it's a long fight), watching the pile writhe in agony is fun, too. Even better, or worse if you're on Jaa's receiving end: It's all excruciatingly real.

To paraphrase Roger Ebert writing about Jaa's previous outing, 2005's ``Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior," ``The Protector" is about 84 minutes long, and only four of those minutes are devoted to plot. Jaa plays Cam, a sweet-faced young man who loves his father and his elephants. When poachers kill dad and nab the animals, he hops on a plane from his Thai village to Sydney for rescue and revenge. He's looking for a guy named Johnny, but apparently it's the fearsome, whip-wielding Chinese-empress type he wants. She runs an international crime syndicate and is waiting at the end of the movie like some villain in the very last level of a video game.

Prachya Pinkaew also directed ``Ong-Bak," and his handle on the action is decent. (Surely the on-set medic had the tougher job.) But much of the movie feels slapdash at best, calling to mind episodes of mid-period ``Power Rangers." The editing, for instance, is riotously abrupt. A speedboat launches into a helicopter. Massive explosion. Cut. Black screen. Title, announcing, ``Sydney Two Weeks Later." The terrible dubbing and worse acting only add to the fun.

Jaa transcends this kitsch, though. He's an expert Muay Thai fighter and trained stuntman who, like Bruce Lee, never appears to inflict the same injury twice. When he sails into a room, as if by slingshot, your blood pressure rises. The filmmakers are smart enough to slow down the shots so that when Jaa's foot lands on a head, the impact is impressive. Watching him demolish a warehouse full of skateboarding, rollerblading X-Gamers seems redundant, though. He's the only real extreme here.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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