Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jean Reno, Ryoko Hirosue, Michel Muller, Carole Bouquet, Yoshi Oida, Christian Sinniger, Alexandre Brik, Jean-Marc Montalto, Véronique Balme, Fabio Zenoni, Haruhiko Hirata, Mikhel Scourneau, Jacques Bondoux
Written by: Luc Besson
Directed by: Gérard Krawczyk
MPAA Rating: R for some violence
Language: French, Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 94
Date: 10/31/2001

Wasabi (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hot Stuff

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Watching the new film Wasabi, I felt that little tingle we boys get when we talk about comic books, monster movies and pulp novels. It's the tingle that Quentin Tarantino grew up getting from a myriad of trashy movies and the same tingle that Tarantino tries to give us in his own movies.

Luc Besson gave Tarantino the tingle with his 1991 film La Femme Nikita, so much so that Tarantino borrowed an idea from it for Pulp Fiction -- the "cleaner" character played by Jean Reno in the former and Harvey Keitel in the latter.

Now Besson does it again, providing the script and handling the production duties for director Gérard Krawczyk on the new film Wasabi, which opens today in Bay Area theaters. And to round things off, Jean Reno stars again, once more playing a cool-headed tough guy named Hubert.

A Paris cop, Hubert routinely causes more havoc than he does progress, using unnecessary force pretty much all the time. He's a big lug of a teddy bear with meaty hands, soft eyes and permanent chin scruff. He never loses his temper, but never lets his guard down either. In addition, he hasn't taken any time off, except to sleep, in two years.

Part of the reason he's drowned himself in work is his former lady love, a Japanese woman he hasn't seen in 19 years. Just after his boss makes him take a 2 month sabbatical, he receives a call from Tokyo; his former lover is dead and she has left him everything in her will.

More than just everything, it turns out. Hubert now must take care of a 19 year-old daughter named Yumi (Ryoko Hirosue) who has most definitely inherited his unruly qualities. Hubert knew nothing about the child and now can't bring himself to tell her that they're related.

It's gets more complicated. Hubert suspects foul play when he investigates Yumi's mother's corpse -- and finds it when sunglasses-wearing gangsters begin following him and shooting at him.

It turns out that Yumi's mother has left Hubert some $200 million and has more to her past than just raising a daughter. With the help of Hubert's old pal Momo (Michel Muller), Hubert takes Wasabi to the next level of chases and shootouts.

Wasabi happens entirely in an artificial movie universe, wrapped in movie logic and plots hand-picked from a thousand other movies. It's like a gleaming pinball machine, bouncing all over the place but never going anywhere we haven't seen before. But Besson and Krawczyk keep things bright and crisp and speedy without ever allowing the crushing dreariness of real life to enter the proceedings.

Reno himself can take credit for most of the movie's success. He's one of the few "cool" actors who never seems aware of his own coolness.

Very few other actors could have pulled off the "shopping" scene in Wasabi, in which he beats a team of bad guys senseless in a department store without anyone noticing, least of all Yumi, who is in the throes of a shopping endorphin rush. After each punch, she models some new item for him and he grins at her, a little nervous and a little adoring at the same time.

And where does the title come from? Reno, again, of course. Stopping for a quick bite with Momo, Hubert begins sucking down fingerfuls of wasabi, apparently unaware of -- and unaffected by -- its heat.

Cool without knowing just how cool he is.

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