It takes a lot for me to hate a movie these days. Bad acting, poor direction, weak scripts, low-rent computer-generated special effects — I am seemingly impervious to it all, which often allows me to consume motion pictures most people wouldn’t dare insert into the mechanical innards of their home entertainment system. The only crime that will almost guarantee a negative review is boredom. Sheer, unadulterated boredom. I don’t care how witty, inventive, or visually stunning your endeavor may be; if it’s an insufferable snoozefest with the pulse rate of a dying sea slug, then we’re going to have serious problems in the kudos department. Boredom is an unforgivable cinematic sin in this dodgy world of filmed entertainment, one that I have absolutely no tolerance for whatsoever.
That’s the major problem with talented writer/director Mamoru Oshii’s sci-fi actioner “Asssault Girls”: It’s dreadfully dull. The film certainly opens with a punch — a lone warrior on a desolate planet battles enormous, man-eating worms from the top of a craggy cliff — and frequently offers up quite a bit of interesting imagery. Since the entire movie takes place inside a complex video game system that completely engulfs the players in a violent world teeming with hideous monsters and ill-tempered players, there’s never a shortage of fantastical things to look out. However, once the proverbial “game master” suggests that the current batch of players join forces to survive, the movie comes to an unexpected halt. Given the director’s penchant for dark and dreary motion pictures, I should have expected as much. Problem is, the film never really finds its footing once it slips, and the rest of the experience suffers because of it.
From what I understand — and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong — this is the third film which features the titular beauties, so perhaps those who are painfully familiar with their previous adventures have a firmer grasp of their respective histories than I do. Each character is introduced by name, and little else about them is divulged. Since I was in this thing mainly for the action, a lack of development wasn’t really an issue. However, when I’m forced to spend extended periods of time with these individuals during their deep, meaningful excursions into inner reflection, knowing a little something about their backtories would have been helpful. If nothing else, it would have given me something substantial to ponder while waiting for anything remotely interesting to happen.
As a fan of Oshii’s “Avalon”, a film I’ve seen more than a few times and have recommended to a fair number of inquiring minds, I expected something a bit more imaginative, a little more intense. “Assault Girls” doesn’t capture any of the magic of its predecessor, which is a damn shame. Considering the picture takes place in a world called “Avalon (F)”, an endless wasteland where seasoned gamers can engage in a number of player-on-player confrontations, the possibilities for over-the-top action and rampant visual stimulation should have been endless. Sadly, there’s not a lot to look at, really, outside of a few snails, one peculiar statue, and a giant rotating orb that dominates the horizon. The playing field was ripe with potential, but Oshii never delivered on the intensity displayed during the film’s action-packed opening.
Of course, it wouldn’t completely out-of-line to suggest that I may have missed the point entirely. If so, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that an Asian motion picture has sailed completely over my head. Even as an avid video game enthusiast, I simply couldn’t get into this desolate virtual world, even when the movie suddenly springs to life during the last ten minutes. By this point, I’m afraid, it’s simply too little too late. Given that the picture is only 70 minutes long — and that includes the lengthy narration positioned at the front of the film that sets the tone for things to come — cramming all of the interesting scenes towards the tail end of the feature seems a little silly. But, like I said before, there’s a strong possibility that I’ve missed the point.
My experience with “Assault Girls” is not entirely unlike watching someone play “World of Warcraft” without having the specifics explained to me beforehand. I understand that there are monsters to fight, and I am aware that teaming up with other players can make things a little easier. But what, exactly, is the point of it all? Considering the film doesn’t contain such important elements as character development, story arcs, or a proper conclusion, unraveling the mystery behind the hows and whys is a little frustrating. Then again, maybe I’m looking for depth where none really exists. Had “Assault Girls” ditched the long, lingering shots and the ponderous sequences of nothing in particular for some hardcore assault, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the inexplicable urge to cancel my account.