Thursday, August 21, 2008

Returner review

A girl named Milly (Anne Suzuki) from 82 years in the future is faced with the task of traveling back in time to prevent an alien invasion that eventually destroys the human race. Upon arrival she meets a reluctant gunman named Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who aids her in trying to find a solution. The situation intensifies though, with only two days left and a murderous mob boss named Mizoguchi standing in their way.

While action is the primary draw to this film it will disappoint if you’re expecting Matrix caliber action. There are some great sequences, but hardly enough and never anything special. This is by no means a major problem as the action goes hand in hand with the plot and never feels forced, but this movie is hyped as an action film, and it feels skimpy at that.

The film borrows (“or pays homage”) to American sci-fi, but uses the elements in creative, slightly different ways. Here, Milly has a watch that allows her to move 20 times faster than normal, giving way to bullet dodging and tight escapes. The way its visually handled may be considered a Matrix rip-off, but it’s by no means the same. Bullet-time was used sparingly in the Matrix as a random interjection into fights to showcase the intricacy of the moves. In Returner, it’s essential to the plot and the characters base their actions around it, giving a completely different purpose to the technique. It’s similar to the recycling of the Terminator, “going back in time to change the future” idea because of the entirely different situation in Returner. It’s a borrowed premise, but not a completely borrowed plot. Returner has its own take on the material.

Kaneshiro and Suzuki’s surprisingly good relationship keeps us engaged with the plot. Their characters have a love-hate friendship that gives way to funny dialogue, mean-spirited humor but some bit of emotional attachment as well. You may not even feel it until the very end, but seeing the story resolved and determining how their relationship will be affected does strike a chord. It may even be more interesting than the extinction of the human race.

With an occasional pulsating rock soundtrack, tinges of stylish action, interesting use of borrowed elements, and surprisingly good special effects, Returner comes recommended for anyone who loved the sci-fi movies it borrowed from; ranging from Terminator and Independence Day to even E.T. Kaneshiro fans should see it as well, for he does a good job with the walking cliché of the bad-ass hip guy with a heart.


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