Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thursday Review: Sushi Girl (2013)

    We’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: No, Mark Hamill does not play his role here like the Joker.

    For all the moaning and hand-wringing about Quentin Tarantino being a hack who steals from older foreign and exploitation films, his critics never seem to take into account just how much of his DNA shows up in other movies - proof positive he’s developed a style all his own. Yes, Reservoir Dogs pretty much has the same storyline as City on Fire, but they are completely different movies in style and execution. “Tarantino-esque” has become a descriptor for a reason, and his way with character and dialogue have proven so memorable and all-encompassing that a swath of imitators having been chasing his tail for years, trying to find that magic combination of humor and shocktastic violence between maybe-not-likable-but-endlessly-fascinating characters.

    So, as you can probably guess, Sushi Girl is the latest in a long line of Tarantino imitators * - a grisly little crime movie that centers around a group of quirky thugs gathering for a dinner of fish from a naked girl’s body to celebrate the release of their former partner-in-crime from a six-year prison sentence. The only problem is that by “celebrate” they really mean brutally torture and maim him into giving up the location of the bag of diamonds they all stole years ago. True to Tarantino form, there are characters delivering epic monologues before committing acts of wanton violence and amusing anecdotes about why it’s a good idea to take laxatives before a job and the appropriation of music from other movies (including a great use of the theme to Diamonds Are Forever early on). But I don’t want to sound down on the movie - although not nearly as cool as its poster would lead you to believe, there’s still plenty of sick fun to be had in Sushi Girl.

    Tony Todd headlines the impressive cast ** as Duke, the orchestrator of the evening’s activities, and he delivers a performance dripping with menace and attitude that is a joy to watch throughout. Mark Hamill shows up as the psychopath Crow, a role quite unlike anything else the actor’s taken on before (in live action, anyway. See the sub-header!). At first, Hamill’s portrayal felt very off, as the actor takes on this quasi-fey persona. But once the action starts, Hamill settles into this completely sinister vibe that shows just how deep the actor’s talents truly go. It’s a remarkable performance, and one that just makes me even more excited for the sequel to that little space movie you may have heard of. The rest of the acting is something of a mixed bag - Andy Mackenzie plays the wild card maniac of the bunch who the others constantly have to restrain due to his uncontrollable ways. It’s a fine performance, but we’ve seen so many iterations of this character that his presence becomes grating after too long. Noah Hathaway also does good work as Fish, the poor bastard being tortured by all his former criminal buds, but his character is so threadbare it’s hard to work up the energy to care when he’s having his face smashed in by a sock full of broken glass. We do get some information in a nice scene towards the beginning where he calls his son after getting out of jail, but the lack of details still leave the character with little development.

    That lack of detail is what strikes the film its biggest blow. While it is nice to be free of exposition and overcomplicated explanations, the simple fact of the matter is that we just don’t find out enough about any of these characters and the events that led them to this place. The film is structured as a mystery, flashing back and forth through time to slowly explain just what happened all those years ago when the diamond heist went wrong. Which is all fine and dandy, but the film takes far too long for us to get important information across. We don’t know why Duke has called this meeting of these random characters or why the focus seems to be on Fish - we don’t even know we’re supposed to be worried for Fish’s life at first, severely hampering the tension early on. All the twists and reveals about each character come across as not terribly compelling as a result - we didn’t know anything about any of these people in the first place, so why should it come as a surprise when we find out one of them is wearing a wire? Or that a few may not be entirely forthcoming with all the details of where the diamonds are? Add in some lapses in logic (like why all of the characters only seem to worry about what happened to the diamonds once Fish gets out of prison) and character motivations (there’s more than a few “Cocaine is a hell of a drug” moments throughout), and the film is halted just shy of the late night classic it could have been.

    But still, the performances are fun to watch and the movie is well-made enough as to be easy on the eyes. And the final reveal is certainly the best, reminding you why the movie is called Sushi Girl instead of The Torturing of a First-Time Offender. To keep with the Tarantino vibe, it transforms from Reservoir Dogs to Kill Bill, reminding us all that revenge is a dish best served cold.

    * And a late one, at that. Even Tarantino grew tired of his own brand of crime film once the nineties came to a close.

    ** Although it must be noted: Michael Biehn, Sonny Chiba, Danny Trejo and Jeff Fahey are barely in the movie - most of them getting barely a brief line of dialogue. They’re all in the movie for name value alone.

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