Sunday, August 10, 2008


Mindless Action Movies aren't made to be appreciated by critics. They're solely designed to delight fans looking for thrills, cheap or otherwise, and succeed on the strength of their fight scenes and explosions. I'm cool with that, for the record. I only mention it because I feel somewhat stupid complaining about the lack of substance in Ryuhei Kitamura's 2000 cult favorite VERSUS; it's so concerned with being a Mindless Action Movie that it never realizes how shallow and thin it is (and we're going by Mindless Action Movie standards).

Springing from the Super-8 short DOWN TO HELL, VERSUS sets up a fascinating premise: there are 666 portals connecting our world to the great beyond. In a Japanese forest a group of criminals have gathered where the 444th portal--the Forest of Resurrection--is located. It's a concept that promises a lot of fast-paced fun, but soon after the living dead show up, the story's dropped for an abundance of self-indulgent directorial preening.

Kitamura is a very style-conscious director, so much that coolness and badassery are paramount, dictating the course of the picture. The trouble is that his style is that of other squib-happy filmmakers like John Woo and Quentin Tarantino, and spends two friggin' hours aping their movies. Tough-guy posturing is one thing--hell, it can be what separates a great action flick from the mediocre--but copying someone else's tough-guy posturing is irritating as fuck. Take the iconic everyone-pulls-their-gun-on-each-other moment that occurs in Woo's best work; Kitamura pulls out this chestnut every chance he gets, regardless that it was stale long before the first instance.

To call this a gun fetish movie would be an understatement--this is for guys who like to masturbate to SOLDIER OF FORTUNE. Once again, wall-to-wall gunfire makes for can't-miss entertainment, but if you're relying only on surface qualities you've got to bring something new to the table.

Oh, and did I mention it's got an open ending, so Kitamura can continue this chicanery without the burden of logic or reason?

No comments: