I was thinking of not reviewing Returner, but I feel that the word should get out on this one.
Synopsis: Skipping the lengthy rehashing of the plot on this one. Suffice it to say that the premise of the movie is what you would get if you combined the Terminator movies with E.T., then added a cup and a half of yakuza/Triads, topping the whole thing off with a sprinkling of CGI and cheap bullet-time effects (and is that a slight hint of The Professional I taste?).
Opinions: The Returner is a live-action Japanese sci-fi adventure movie. It’s not the worst movie in the world, not by a long shot. But it’s just nothing really new, inspiring, or spectacular. It’s like they kludged together bits of every other plot in existence to make this movie:
The heroin has tradgically lost a younger brother to aliens. The hero is finally facing off against the mafioso (Triad in this case?) kingpin who gutted his childhood friend for organs. It’s got time-traveling, a disproportionately retributive alien menace, a tom-boy heroine who cleans up nicely, a hero who ends up being a decent guy beneath the hardened merc exterior, an old tough as nails Chinese woman (with a heart of gold no less) who deals in information and firearms, smoldering oil rigs, and a love story that sadly was never meant to be… Heck, it even has transformers!
So what’s not to love? Well, honestly it just seemed like too much.
The heroine was maybe a little too cute, and she constantly seemed to be giving the hero these I really need you…but can I trust you? looks. In the middle of the action the hero makes her stop at a beauty salon and clothes store to get dolled up, after which her hair looks amazingly similar to this. Every time there was a pause in the action of a few minutes this sort of wistful heart-tugging music came on to let you know that emotions were running high, or should be.
And if the many gun fight scenes aren’t enough to get your blood pumping there are something like three or four times that people are taken hostage, ambushed, or otherwise hopelessly surrounded. I don’t think they could have tried any harder to make you concerned about the characters if the director had walked on screen and screamed into the camera, “Invest your emotions in these characters! Feel deep and tender concern for their welfare and the outcome of this plot! Now!”
But no matter how hopeless it seemed there was always some deus ex machina ready to pull their butts out of the fire. Be it high tech device, clever ruse, alien force field, or trusted ally, something always came through for them at the last minute.
I will give Returner some dignity though: At least it wasn’t as painful to watch as some of the crappy sci-fi out there. It definitely was a couple notches up from most of the Sci-Fi channel made for TV movies for instance. Sort of like moderately well made Hollywood fluff rather than a total let down and box-office bomb.
Returner (2002) gets 2 out of 5 stars.