Boys on the Run

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/12/10 02:02:00

"Goofy and grim is not a good combination."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: A number of times in the past few years, and past few weeks, as I've been reviewing Japanese films based on long-running comics/manga, I've either written something along the lines of how well I think it does in translating that medium's pace and story to film (or struggled mightily to NOT make that comment, as it gets repetitive). Usually, it's something along the lines of having to cram a lot of material into a couple hours to make a film with a beginning, middle, and end. This time, I find myself left wondering whether writer/director Daisuke Miura did that fairly well and I just don't like the end, if he only adapted some fraction of the series, or if he adapted it somewhat loosely.

Whatever he did, this is the story of a young man, Toshiyuki Tannishi (Kazunobu Mineta), still living in his parents' home and working a pretty menial job, servicing capsule vending machines for the Sangyo Saida toy company. It could be worse, though. There's a girl at the office he likes - Chiharu (Mei Kurokawa), a toy designer - and he gets along with his opposite number at Monster Toys, Aoyama (Ryuhei Matsuda). It's Aoyama, in fact, who encourages him to make a go of it with Chiharu. Things go pretty well, until an awkward situation involving Shiho (You), Chiharu's next door neighbor - a basically friendly prostitute.

Low-end neighborhoods and the often best-left-unspoken habits of their residents are apparently familiar territory for Miura, and Boys on the Run certainly lives in that district. It's casually vulgar, milking incidents like Toshi accidentally lending Chiharu some unusual pornography for plenty of laughs while also being able to recognize things which aren't far off as scuzzy and uncomfortable. Miura gets good mileage both from his gross-out gags and the comedy of discomfort, and as long as the movie is focusing on being a raunchy romantic comedy, it's a delight to watch.

For this comedy, or romance, or whatever else this movie is trying to be, to work, though, we've got to believe in what the characters are doing at a given time, and when things start getting bad, I found myself not believing in Toshi, Chiharu, and Shiho. Sure, romantic complications both in film and real life are often the result of otherwise intelligent people doing dumb things, but after a certain amount of stupid, tone-deaf responses to the last stupid thing that they did, the whole thing just stops working. Either you reject the very premise, figuring that these characters just can't be that socially inept, or it becomes obvious that the situation is unsalvageable, and any further time spent watching these characters together is an exercise in pain and futility.

Boys on the Run reaches that point before it's halfway through, and while there are brief glimmers of interest as the movie moves toward the end, they're not enough. The situation just gets more trying and ugly, and what's worse, it's often not even creatively ugly. Miura and company spend a good chunk of the last act riffing on Taxi Driver, not just with the first time I've seen a "you talkin' to me?" riff done in Japanese, but outright saying "this is from Taxi Driver" while apparently completely misunderstanding it. It's a grim march to the end.

One can't complain much about the cast, though. Mineta and Kurokawa both have a certain amount of nerdy underdog charm at the start, and handle their characters' bitterness quite well. Ryuhei Matsuda is pitch-perfect as Aoyama with plenty of polish and charisma, though not so much that he seems out of place. Karou Kobayashi is drily amusing and pitiable as Toshi's morose drunk colleague Suzuki. Even You is okay here, although her babyish voice only seems to fit about half of her scenes.

"Boys on the Run" has an awkward and abrupt ending, and maybe it would have improved if it had gone on. That's not the way the trend was going, though; it probably would have just become more dreary the farther it got from its potential-laden start.

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