Ok. Turns out it’s the future or something and humanity’s busy cocking up another war with an alien power (on a set that looks suspiciously like Stargate SG1). Our best bet is to send a 15 year old girl back in time to… something? Viewers will swift discover that an important caveat with this film is to never at any point ask why or how a given event is happening, merely accept that it is and all will be well with the world. Also, if you think this already sounds a bit like the Terminator… you’re right, so shut up.
Whip round to the present day aboard a derelict Cargo Tanker and there’s a bunch of evil gangsters and a MYSTERIOUS GUNMAN having some sort of lead related tiff. Who is this mysterious gunman? Why it’s Takeshi Kaneshiro, whom if I understand correctly, a lot of the lady types want to make the sex with. Let’s get out our heroic badass checklist.
Look closely, this isn’t a character so much as a series of genre clichés loosely stapled into the shape of a man; all mysterious baddass for hire – tragic past – high plains drifter – lonely rogue – if only I could tame him – Matrix bullet time – bullshit. And he smokes. If I had ovaries I’m sure they’d be bubbling already.
Most importantly though it introduces Gorô Kishitani as Mizoguchi, the evil gangster enforcer. First scene he’s in, he casually whips out a gleaming magnum from his pocket and shoots a kidnapped child in the head.
Seriously, sit up and take note – this is one ludicrously awesome bad dude. He is the cherry on the chocolate cake; a blank faced amoral psychopath with a frog in his throat, who’s default emotion state seems to be world weary ennui, occasionally broken by mad spouts of avarice and murderous violence. Suffice to say that at the conclusion of the tanker scene he flies off in a helicopter, pausing only to spray the boat with submachine gun fire while cackling like a monkey with the keys to the banana factory… It’s like, it’s like he’s a videogame Widow Twanky.
Anyway, future child (who suffers from that incurable Japanese character disease of being insufferably cute and feisty and whose fashion sense could best be described as ragamuffin gypsy punk final-fantasy cosplay bumcrack) inevitably teams up with mysterious gunman and you know that after a rough start they will become FIRM FRIENDS and COMRADES IN ARMS and possibly SAVE THE WORLD.
So that’s the set-up and what a set-up.
What follows makes precisely zero sense and appears to be a mish mash of about five different franchises, four distinct genres and about 12 ‘OMG I LOVE THIS BIT’ moments from cinematic and videogame history. Take the Terminator, mix it with Independence Day, add in a dash of the Matrix, a sprinkling of E.T, two tablespoons of the Transformers and just a whiff of Leon. One can only assume that every meeting the writer and director had when brainstorming this film undoubtedly started with the line ‘Wouldn’t it be brilliant if -‘ or ‘Argh, you remember that awesome bit in that film, well-‘. You could easily imagine the characters from Spaced knocking this film out after a 72 hour Time Crisis and hash stew marathon.
It really is a wonderful mess. The sets are as follows: cargo tanker, industrial warehouse, underground facility, highway and oil rig; it’s like a who’s who of end of level boss locations. The hero lives in and receives missions/items from a curmudgeonly old grump that runs a Chinese medicine store. They shove in gangsters and aliens and robots, THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF SPACE SCIENCE, and use gunfights to punctuate sentences, all with the threat of Alien Armageddon lurking in the background and capped off with incredible dialogue like: “ONLY BY SENDING SOMEONE THROUGH THE TIMESHIFTER CAN WE CHANGE OUR HISTORY.” In fact, the only thing missing from the film seems to be a wizard (If Mizoguchi doesn’t count).
On the subject of Alien Armageddon, the Alien itself looks more than a bit like E.T, or at least E.T after the little bugger hit the gym a bunch and stopped looking like an oily sack of suet. Also, in this film, when he calls the cavalry they don’t flob about in a dinky flying saucer jabbing Drew Barrymore with glowing fingers, they ride in on giant transformers and start tearing folks up in tiny little E.T exoskeletons. Which is kind of harrowing, as when they flash forward to the actual invasion it really is a bit like watching the cast of Stargate getting curb stomped by teched-up Care Bears. There’s even a bizarre Timecop moment where one character ends up telling themself to “Be good”…. By this point you’re not sure if the writers are just taking the piss or not…
Thing is, this isn’t like the comparatively recent wave of cash-in weeds like the hideous Transmorphers (based on the marketing premise that if the names are similar to popular franchises people might accidently buy the bullshit knock-off instead of the legitimate bullshit blockbuster). You can kind of see it as a sort of Scary Movie style mashup, but gentler, more amusing and with ideas ripped with love for fun rather than hate for profit. It’s a total mess, but a glorious one.
But, at the risk of flogging that horse to the point it starts to resemble a thin bloody carpet, the real treasure that brings it all together has to be Mizoguchi.
Final Scores on the Doors for Mizoguchi.
Shoots a kid (cold blood).
Shoots an old man (sort of).
Shoots a woman (cold blood).
Shoots an alien (cold blood).
And that’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s like he takes each Hollywood convention on what you’re NOT ALLOWED TO DO and breaks them one at a time. While eating Lobster still in the shell (seriously). This guy is so fantastically evil you imagine if he ever ruled the world he’d build a jet-pack powered by cocaine and fly it while cackling like a loon over pre-schools like the world’s most twisted crop-duster…
I, I think I’m in love…
The thing is, The Returner is so good it’s dangerously close to not being a turkey. It sort of has a good budget, if you don’t cheat and switch the language settings to American English then the acting’s decent, it’s fun, occasionally funny, even a little bit cool and it feels so cheeky. If this is a Turkey, it definitely rules the roost.
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