by David Cornelius
“Wasabi” is one of the best times I’ve had lately enjoying a movie that has absolutely no regard for a plot. When it was all over, my wife and I turned to each other and agreed that there were large chunks of the story that we simply couldn’t figure out, but who cares? We were laughing all the way to the credits.The film is an action comedy - emphasis on the comedy - from writer/producer Luc Besson (that French mix of Jerry Bruckheimer and John Woo) and director (and frequent Besson collaborator) Gérard Krawczyk. The film, as with most Besson-produced actioners, plays off the Hong Kong action style, only here the overdone violence is taken to a cartoonishly comic level; whenever star Jean Reno punches a guy, the victim goes hurling backwards a good twenty feet.
"Jean Reno: a badass for every occasion."
When done right, such comic action can be oh-so-cool, and here, it’s done right. There’s a sequence that finds Reno taking on the baddies with a set of golf clubs as his only weapons. A similar scene in “Formula 51” was fair stuff, but it didn’t quite click the way it should have; here, it’s all good.
Reno stars as Hubert Fiorentini, the baddest badass on the French police force. In one scene, we see him at a dance club taking down a perp - and then punching out various onlookers, you know, just for the hell of it. (This includes the police chief’s son, who introduces himself as the police chief’s son, which results in the kid winding up in a body cast.) Another bit finds him taking down a group of transvestite bank robbers, and for the first time in decades, a kick to the groin actually turns out to be kinda funny. Who knew?
It seems Fiorentini is haunted by the ghost of an old flame whom he romanced in Japan two decades back. She ran out on him without a word, and his life has been nothing but regret and groin-kicking ever since. Just when he’s decided to try and put it all behind him, he gets word that she just passed away, and he needs to return to Japan, as he’s the sole beneficiary in her will.
It’s there he learns he has a daughter, and the will requests he act as legal guardian until her twentieth birthday - a mere two days away. The daughter, Yumi (Ryoko Hirosue), is just like dad: fiesty, tough, and eager to beat the crap out of folks (in her case, cops). But she’s also a good girl, and quite peppy, a teen that’s not exactly a perfect match for this grizzled grump.
Want more? Hubert, being the smart cop he is, realizes that this old flame was actually murdered, and he was put in the will because she knew he’d be able to solve any case. Which means she knew she’d be killed. But why? And by whom?
Hubert reteams with his old commando buddy, Momo (Michel Muller), a Paul Giamatti type that gets all the best lines. As dopey comic relief goes, Muller’s a perfect fit; his Momo is a guy who’s having a ball now that Hubert’s back in town, kicking ass and raising hell. His glee at the chance to once again go out and buy a briefcase or two full of cool weaponry translates into giddy fun for the audience.
The best comedy here comes from either Hubert being impossibly hard-nosed - which, as far as Reno is concerned, is undeniably kick-ass - or from having Hubert and Momo hide the truth from Yumi. (Yumi has declared a hatred for her absentee father, so Hubert introduces himself as a “family friend;” also, she hates cops, so Hubert, fearing that she’d just run away, claims to be a plastic surgeon. Don’t ask - the whole thing works, surprisingly enough.)
There’s a great moment where Hubert takes Yumi shopping, and while Yumi’s always looking the other way, Hubert’s beating the life out of the string of Yakuza heavies who are on their tail. The mixture of Hubert’s unrestrained violence and Yumi’s unbelievable cluelessness makes for plenty of solid laughs.The rest of the plot has something to do with money that the Yakuza wants and their various efforts to be generic movie bad guys. The filmmakers aren’t too concerned with this. They know it’s more fun to see the culture clash of French grouch Hubert and Japanese teen Yumi (think Jacques Chirac meets Sailor Moon), and the actual plot is only a means to keep the action rolling to the closing credits. And it works. “Wasabi” is a winner in both action cool and loopy comedy. Besson and Krawczyk have taken what could have been a dry, cheesy, clichéd number and juiced it up with the right amount of laughs. This is a pure definition of dumb fun.
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originally posted: 05/31/05 15:57:56