Adrenaline Drive (1999) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Masanobu Ando, Hikari Ishida, Yutaka Matsushige, Jovi Jova
Director: Shinobu Yaguchi
Screenplay: Shinobu Yaguchi

Review published May 20, 2000

The title may be a little misleading, as you may be expecting a roller-coaster ride of an action film, but this is more of an offbeat comedy/romance filled with wry humor and outlandish situations.  The plot is not very fresh, and basically writes itself, using the oft told tale of finding a large sum of cash only to be chased down by the criminal element that it had belonged to.  Under the deft hand of Shinobu Yaguchi, new life is breathed in with the touches of humor and comical characters, yet there's still an air of staleness to the plot that leads us to love the film for its peripheral shenanigans while being completely unimpressed with the core storyline.  It's a bells-and-whistles kind of movie, made for those who like good frills over cheap thrills.

The film starts off with Satoru (Ando) driving for a car rental company, when his antagonizing co-worker distracts him into rear-ending the car of a local yakuza member (Matsushige.)  The yakuza isn't pleased, and takes him to see the leader to exact some payment, or punishment, but a small explosion occurs that kills everyone except Satoru and the yakuza is left alive, and that's just barely.  Seeing an opportunity to gain some quick cash, Satoru takes a case full of cash before getting in the ambulance, when there is another crash and only Satoru and a mousy nurse emerge with the money.  They decide to split the funds, but there is a mutual attraction that keeps them together, but the yakuza miraculously survives and sends a gang of thugs to get his money back.

ADRENALINE DRIVE scores most of its creative points in the first half, before the film turns into a chase flick, with well-defined characterizations and a knowing wit.  Ando and Ishida make a likeable pair, and the direction by Yaguchi borrows the tone from Takeshi Kitano's bag of tricks, but much lighter and fluffier.  There is an undertone of satire and irony that only those familiar with Japanese television and pop culture may truly understand, and I have to admit I am not one of them, so keep this in mind.  I've read that the six thugs are played by a comedy troupe known as Jovi Jova, and they provide a curious energy to the film by being lackadaisical, paradoxically.  The last half of the film descends into predictability, with a superficial love story and an obvious ending, and what was almost a pleasant surprise becomes a bit of a disappointment.

ADRENALINE DRIVE isn't a great film, but it is definitely fun, and worth a look if you can find it at your local video store for a pleasant and amusing diversion.

Qwipster's rating:

2000 Vince Leo