Wasabi (2001) / Action-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for violence (I'd rate it PG-13 for some cartoonish violence)
Running Time: 94 min.

Cast: Jean Reno, Ryoko Hirosue, Michel Muller, Carole Bouquet, Ludovic Berthillot, Yan Epstein
Director: Gerard Krawczyk

Screenplay: Luc Besson
Review published May 3, 2004

Wasabi is self-recycled Luc Besson, an action film that has a tough-as-nails protagonist who, through circumstances beyond his control, must be in charge of a girl that slowly picks away at his hardened exterior.  Starting with his successful Leon (The Professional), Besson regurgitated this story into the formula he would follow for several screenplays he has written since, from The Fifth Element to Kiss of the Dragon to The TransporterWasabi is probably the most lighthearted of the bunch, playing most scenes for laughs, many of them stemming from Reno being ingratiating in allowing himself to be won over time and time again by the spirited young girl.  Your enjoyment of this kind of film will probably rely greatly with how much you like Jean Reno himself, enjoying him make fun of his own image and give himself some good-natured ribbing.

Reno is Hubert Fiorentini, a Parisian police officer who finds himself in hot water after seemingly every assignment for fighting and endangering the lives of civilians around him.  When the police chief's son is hurt due to Hubert's antics, Fiorentini is given two months suspension.  He tries to put his life together, but a past romance with a Japanese woman still haunts him, and then comes some bad news -- the woman has died.  She did leave Hubert some possessions, so he flies to Japan to witness her cremation, only to learn that the woman he left 19 years ago has a daughter, and in fact, the daughter is his.  He only has to care for her for two days until she is legal, but a plethora of hitmen seem to be after her, and it's all Hubert can do to keep her alive.

There isn't much to recommend Wasabi except for the offbeat mix of over-the-top humor and overly stylized action, and taken as a pure entertainment kind of film, it'll please most audiences who like French action-comedies.  Like most Besson heroines, Hirosue is brash and in-your-face, starting off annoying, but showing great emotion underneath.  As unique as the elements are that come together in front and behind the camera, this is still very much formula stuff, with very little in the way of surprises in any facet of the production. 

So, if you watch all things Reno, are a Besson nut, or just enjoy watching cute and spunky Japanese girls, you might want to sample Wasabi.  It's an occasionally amusing 90 minute diversion that delivers just enough goods to make it worthwhile, but little more than that.  Like the Japanese condiment itself, this is a film for acquired tastes, so if you love the cheesiest of action-comedies, you might find this blend of international flavors much to your liking.

Qwipster's rating

©2004 Vince Leo