by Chris Parry
Japanese cinema has pretty much sat in the corner rocking back and forth since Akira Kurosawa passed on, with Battle Royale being perhaps the only recent flick worth hunting down from the land of the rising sun. So what's the best recipe to rejuvenate an ailing local film industry? That's right, rip off every successful flick of the past decade in the hope of creating an 'event' film. And Returner is certainly an event film... in fact, it's about a dozen event films Frankensteined into one mostly unoriginal, slightly plagiaristic, hot'n'cold action flick.Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a total bad ass. A John Woo good guy to the core, complete with blowing jacket, itchy trigger-finger, uber-martial arts skills and too-cool-for-school demeanor, Miyamoto has one true aim in life; to put a small piece of lead into the head of nastier-than-summer-jock-itch bad guy Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani).
"The best aspects of 17 good movies sewn together into one 'okay' flick."
As these two are dueling it out regularly in a quest to see who has the bigger johnson, a young woman called Millie (Ann Suzuki), who has been sent back in time, drops out of the sky and begins a quest to kill an alien and thus save the human race in eighty years time.
If that sounds a little like the Terminator movies to you, well duh. Get used to it, because Returner also borrows from ET, Independence Day, Matrix, Transformers, Clockstoppers, and any number of others that I might have missed. Certainly it's not a terrible thing to identify something about movies that people dig and rework it, much as Tarantino did before the rest of the world started to copy his copying, but there's such a thing as overkill. By all means, borrow the 'slowed down bullets' routine from Matrix, but don't also borrow Independence Day's mother ship shots, ET's alien, Transformers' transforming and Clockstoppers' gadgets, not to mention most of Terminator's storyline.
To be fair, there are plenty of trailer moments in Returner. Some of the special effects are breathtaking, some of the action is top notch and some of the acting is well above par. But there's also another side to things; some of the special effects are of the Roger Corman variety, some of the action is ridiculous and some of the acting is so bad it'll leave you cringing.
It seems that Returner was made with dual Chinese and Japanese audiences in mind, as Kaneshiro is very much a Hong Kong film stalwart, and many conventions of both genres of film are touched upon. The bad guy is a member of the Triads, which is an organization generally not seen in Japan, where the Yakuza is king, but hey, if you wanna sell to two countries, you've gotta mix it up, right?
Ultimately you could forgive Returner's lack of originality if it pulled off a tight little action story with memorable characters and enough high points to drown out the low ebbs, but this is a film that just doesn't know when to quit. Unable to let things sit with ending #1, the film just keeps going, hitting you with ending #2, then continuing on to what you're sure will be ending #3, only to have ending #4 close things out.It could have been good - even great. Alas, it was average. Rent the films that inspired it instead.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7619&reviewer=1
originally posted: 05/02/03 10:51:27