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Adrenaline Drive
Year: 1999
Hikari Ishida and Masanobu Ando
Director: Shinobu Yaguchi
Producer: Kiyoshi Mizokami
Cast: Masanobu Ando, Hikari Ishida, Jovi Jova, Kazue Tsunogae, Yu Tokui, Kirina Mano, Kouichi Ueda, Yutaka Matsushige
The Skinny: Don't let the title confuse you: This is not really an action movie and isn't exactly exciting. What you do get is a mostly understated character-driven light crime comedy. Is it worth it? That depends on how tired of this story you are…
by RainDog:

     Satoru (Masanobu Ando) is a meek young man who's unhappy with his job. Driving with his boss, and even being goaded by his boss to become angry and show some backbone, Satoru still can't really do much but apologize for his inability to speak up for himself, a situation that ends with him distractedly bumping into the back of a car owned by a Yakuza lieutenant. Meanwhile, Shizuko (Hikari Ishida) is a pretty nurse whose nerd glasses do a bad job of convincing us she's not cute. When we first meet her, she's framed quietly in the background while a pair of fellow nurses excitedly talk about dancing and guys, a conversation that obviously excludes her.
     These two first meet when Shizuko's buying something for her rude coworkers (though her shift's over) while a few blocks away Satoru's being hassled by the Yakuza, who want reparations for the damage to the car. After he has a hand in accidentally blowing up their headquarters, she hears the explosion and goes to help. Sharing a ride in the hospital together in an ambulance with the only surviving yakuza and a metal case stuffed with money, the ambulance crashes and they're left with the money, which they both decide to keep. Unfortunately, the police have questions, the Yakuza lieutenant didn't die in the crash, and a bunch of young enthusiastic Yakuza are on their trail.
     Adrenaline Drive is the story of a pair of socially inept, shy characters and what happens to them when they get chased by a bunch of Yakuza who want a large sum of their money back. If you've watched a lot of flicks, this should sound very, very familiar to you. This is the "On The Run From The Mob" movie, a seemingly fallback movie plot used when there's no fresh material lying around the studio. So the question becomes whether or not this is a good "On the Run" movie.
     If you can overlook the plot (as well as a few holes in the same), Adrenaline Drive is enjoyable after it gets moving, and effectively mixes light, dark, and surprisingly effective slapstick humor. What ultimately saves this, though, is the characters and the credible changes they go through. The main Yakuza badass (Yutaka Matsushige) goes from Standard Yakuza Role #2 to a fleshed-out person by the end, partially with the help of the head nurse from the hospital (Kazue Tzunogae), a similar 2-to-3D character. Even the clueless Yakuza wannabes become a little more real before the film's resolution. What's also nice is that it's done very believably and within our expectations—all of the characters come out ahead in small, believable, feel-good ways.
     And then there's our heroes. The fact that both the lead characters are so meek is both a strength and weakness to the story. Because of their personalities, at first it's almost painful to watch them as they try to muddle their way through the drama unfolding in front of them. Part of you just wants them to stand up for themselves, to be smarter, to do what we think we'd do in their situation, almost to the point of frustration. Considering this, the acting by Masanobu Ando and Hikari Ishida is very good.
     Ultimately, though, these characters aren't consistently compelling enough to support an entire movie's worth of material. There are some great scenes with the two of them—like when they first escape from their pursuers and realize, wordlessly and happily, that they've finally left their old lives behind—but the romance between the two never really materializes onscreen no matter how much the plot requires it. One rapid-edit scene, where Shizuko tries on dresses in a shop while Satoru judges the results, feels so obligatory that it can't help but fail to convince us that they're a great couple. We end up caring much more about what happens to the money—which is where most of the film's humor and action stems from—than what happens to them as a couple.
     By the end the plot is more or less resolved neatly, and there are enough funny moments and drama after the first twenty minutes of set-up to keep us interested. Also, the movie does prompt you to wonder what happens to the characters after the credits roll, which is always a good thing. With a little more spark between the main characters this could have been a great genre piece, but as it is it's only a pleasant way to spend 110 minutes. (RainDog 2002)

Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Image Entertainment
Japanese Language Track
English Subtitles

image courtesy of Image Entertainment Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen