Returner (2002) Movie Review

Sometimes there’s just no real reason for a movie to be in the first place. Take the South Korean movie “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl”, and now take the Japanese movie “Returner”. Both films are clearly inspired by “The Matrix”, and one can spot the “inspiration” in the action sequences and special effects. Although storywise, “Returner” has most in common with James Cameron’s “Terminator” franchise.

Takeshi Kaneshiro headlines as Miyamoto, a black leather-clad guy who does strange things like rob from the local mob and free abducted street urchins. Ann Suzuki steps into the Kyle Reese role as a futuristic freedom fighter name Millie who is sent through a time portal back to the present in order to save the future. Time paradoxes notwithstanding, Millie lands smack dab in the middle of Miyamoto’s gunfight with longtime arch nemesis Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani), who actually doesn’t remember Miyamoto at all.

It seems that in the future, approximately 80 years from now, a race of technologically advanced aliens have come to Earth, nearly wipe out the human race, and is now intent on finishing the job. (Although I have to wonder, if they’re so advance how come they haven’t finished the job yet after 80 years?) The culprit, it seems, is an alien that crash landed on the planet, and later was responsible for signaling the invasion orders. If Millie can only get to the alien first, and kill it…

They say that imitation is the finest form of flattery, but I say it’s time to call in the litigious lawyers. Parts “Terminator”, parts “Matrix”, and parts “Independence Day” and “E.T.”, “Returner” doesn’t have a single original bone in its body. Beyond those points, the movie is unfathomably dull, tedious, and so lacking in any semblance of energy or pop that I was hardpressed to even hear the techno soundtrack that was meant to “get me pump” for the movie’s many action scenes. The result? I had a hard time trying not to fall asleep, which is not the reaction one expects when watching a movie that has as big a budget as “Returner”.

To be honest, I had a very hard time trying to understand what writer/director Takashi Yamazaki was going for. With “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl” I had a sense that the filmmaker was attempting parody, and although he failed miserably, I knew his intentions. I am stumped about “Returner”. Besides the fact that the story is a rehash of American blockbusters and the movie itself was clearly intended to cash in on as large a market as possible, I can’t think of any reason why “Returner” was even made. For that matter, why does the Mizoguchi character look like a bad extra from one of those one-on-one fighting video games? I just don’t get the hair and the blas’ homicidal attitude.

The screenplay is a big part of the problem, if not the biggest problem. Although we’re supposed to believe that Millie is on a timetable (she has only a few days to prevent the outbreak of war between humans and the aliens), this doesn’t exactly explain why she spills the beans to Miyamoto about the whole alien thing, only to go mum for a long stretch of time, then to try to convince him again later on. Also, for a woman who has been sent back in time to save mankind, that whole “racing against time” thing didn’t exactly stop Millie from indulging in a little shopping and some time-consuming facial, not to mention a whole wardrobe change. Nice boots.

There are other numerous lapses in common sense, and just a sheer unwillingness on the part of Takashi Yamazaki to explore plot holes, much less try to seal them up. For instance, once the government discovers a crashed spaceship in their backyard, they drive it (on the back of a semi truck covered in a heavy tarp, no less!) to one of their research facilities. Despite having armed soldiers and an alien spaceship and a living alien pilot in the facility, apparently it’s still not against the rules for a scientist to greet three very unscientific looking men outside, lead them into the building, and show them the spaceship and alien as if he was hosting his own tourism attraction. Man, discovering crashed alien ships and an entirely new alien species just don’t warrant the security it used to! Haven’t we learned anything from Roswell?

Listing all of the gaping plot holes of “Returner” is a day-long job. The point is, there was such little care taken with the script, that it’s no use respecting it. Acting wise, Takeshi Kaneshiro looks good in tight black leather and he’s got the too-cool-for-school posing down to a science. But the less said about the horrendous disaster that is the Mizoguchi character the better.

Then again, the movie bogs down badly when we’re forced to sit through Miyamoto and Millie attempt chemistry. At least 30 minutes of the film’s first hour is spent with Miyamoto and Millie. Besides being painfully dull and lifeless, these scenes only add to the inevitable conclusion that “Returner” is criminally lacking in energy. The movie crawls from one plot point to another, which in itself wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the Millie character doesn’t keep reminding us that she’s racing against the clock. Gee, Millie, you keep saying it, but you sure don’t show it. It also doesn’t help that the ending drags on for at least 20 minutes more than it should.

For those who cares, “Returner” can add itself to the list of films that have copied the bullet-time effect in “The Matrix”. Unfortunately in this case I’m not entirely sure if Yamazaki was going for parody or not. There are a number of good action scenes in the film, and the effects, because of the movie’s large budget, are very well done. “Returner” certainly doesn’t lack for visual effects, that’s for sure. It just lacks everything else.

Takashi Yamazaki (director) / Takashi Yamazaki (screenplay)
CAST: Takeshi Kaneshiro …. Miyamoto
Ann Suzuki …. Millie
Goro Kishitani …. Mizoguchi

Buy Returner on DVD