Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hikari Ishida, Masanobu Ando, Jovi Jova, Yutaka Matushige, Kazue Tsunogae
Written by: Shinobu Yaguchi
Directed by: Shinobu Yaguchi
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Japanese
Running Time: 112
Date: 04/05/2000

Adrenaline Drive (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Yakuza Lite

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Adrenaline Drive is partially like a Quentin Tarantino or a Takeshi Kitano movie, and partially like a Peter Sellers movie, minus Peter Sellers. It starts out in that familiar deadpan style, not letting us entirely in on the joke. We can sense there are things that have happened before we got there and things that are happening now that we're not privy to. At the midpoint, the movie suddenly becomes like one of those French farces where all the characters are chasing each other around running in and out of doors, each looking for some different piece of the puzzle.

The truth is that the movie only mostly works, and I like the first half much better than the second half. If I'm kept slightly in the dark, I'm much more likely to be interested in what's going on. But the in-your-face slapstick is amusing but not nearly as interesting.

The story involves a shy rental car worker (Masanobu Ando, from Takeshi Kitano's 1996 Kids' Return) and a meek nurse (Hikari Ishida). Masanobu accidentally smashes into a gangster's car and is taken back to their hideout for punishment. Just as something horrible is about to happen to him, the place blows up, killing everyone except Masanobu. The nurse is the first to arrive on the scene, and the pair escape with a pile of money. Little do they know that one gangster survived, and that six of his crew members who were out of town during the explosion have returned.

Once the cat is out of the bag and we know who is who and who is alive and who isn't, the movie turns into a farce. But it works because it's rather low-key. Our two heroes are introverted and shy. The main gangster spends the movie broken and bundled up in casts and braces. And the six gang members are bumbling morons who are easily distracted. The bad guys are given as much weight as the good guys, and we enjoy everyone's company. There are no bigger-than-life, or more-evil-than-you-can-possibly-imagine characters. This is a small, goofy story that happens while the rest of the world continues in its merry way.

Adrenaline Drive is crying out to be remade in America. I wouldn't be surprised to see a remake pop up next year. My colleague Rob Blackwelder and I decided that the two leads should be Giovanni Ribisi and Katie Holmes. I'd be glad to write it if anyone is interested.

Meanwhile, the folks who check out this Shooting Gallery release will have a fun time. It shows that Japanese cinema is not all epic samurai movies and somber gangster flicks. This one has a smile on its face and is willing to deliver a lightweight rollercoaster ride.

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