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Continued: Movie reviews: 'Fighting,' 'The Informers' and 'Tokyo!'

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 23, 2009 - 5:07 PM

TOKYO!

★★ out of four stars

Unrated; mature themes. In Japanese and French, subtitled.

Theater: Lagoon.

Adamantly bizarre, "Tokyo!" operates in terms of myths, folk tales and legends, not literal-minded fiction. The three directors (France's Michel Gondry and Leos Carax and South Korea's Bong Joon-Ho) reject the gravitational pull of realism. That edgy, futuristic city seems to have stoked their imaginations to the boiling point. They flirt with free-form plots, apocalyptic themes straight out of the science fiction playbook and key ingredients from horror films. The Tokyo they show us could border Middle-earth, Dune and Hogwarts.

Gondry's curtain-raiser, "Interior Design," follows two newcomers to the city, where it's exhausting work to find an apartment or a job. Work overshadows everything. The man, an experimental filmmaker, lands a position as a gift wrapper. His girlfriend, a bit of a doormat, fears she will never find a way to become useful. Then, as in the Brothers Grimm, she transforms into something very utilitarian. Let others use you long enough, Gondry insinuates, and you cease to exist.

Next, and weirdest, is Carax's "Merde," with Tokyo baffled by a sewer-dwelling troll. Denis Lavant goes all out as Mr. Merde, whose scarlet hair, asymmetrical beard and grass-green suit suggest a crazed leprechaun. He emerges from a manhole, eats flowers and wads of cash, steals people's cigarettes, and generally upsets the social order. He becomes a media sensation but pushes his provocations too far. Finding a cache of World War II hand grenades underground, he begins throwing them at random. Merde is captured, leading to a courtroom scene where he and his lawyer communicate in gibberish. The nonsense dialogue is never translated, the scene lasts far too long and the finale is a massive anticlimax. "Merde" is right.

Boon's finale, "Shaking Tokyo," makes the overcrowded city a study in isolation and loneliness. A voluntary hermit (Teruyuki Kagawa), living in a fastidiously tidy apartment, glances into the eyes of the pizza delivery girl and falls in love, an event with metaphysically earthshaking repercussions. The tight little story is told with virtuoso camera work, understated performances and heart. Overall, "Tokyo!" is two-thirds of a good movie.

COLIN COVERT

THE INFORMERS

★ out of four stars

Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, drug use, pervasive language and some disturbing images.

Theater: Eagan 16.

Like bad drug flashbacks, Bret Easton Ellis just won't go away. The "American Psycho" novelist's designer decadence is as dated as a Boy George album, yet here comes "The Informers," a news flash from early-'80s L.A. notifying us that greed is bad, sex is dangerous and youth is fleeting. Shallow, pretty rich kids sleep with each other in every erotic combination. A rock star brutalizes his groupies just so he can feel something. A soulless movie executive (Billy Bob Thornton, apparently on novocaine) manipulates his fading wife (stiff Kim Basinger) and needy mistress (Winona Ryder, overcaffeinated). A beefcake actor turned drifter (Mickey Rourke) kidnaps kids off the street and sells them to yuppies for unspeakable, unspecified wickedness.

The tone is snide, contemptuous, condescending -- TMZ with phony gravitas. Ellis' stories had more oomph before drug-crazed screwups like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Amy Winehouse became the center of the Internet news cycle. Been there, done that, been there, done that. Done.

FIGHTING

★★ out of four stars

Rating: PG-13 for intense fight sequences, some sexuality and brief strong language.

"Fighting " is a misleading title for this colorful New York City character study. Yes, Channing Tatum does have some bruising fights in unsanctioned, high-stakes matches, but those episodes are only loosely grafted to the main body of the film.

Tatum is a shy, polite Southern wrestler who catches the eye of a promoter after walloping four adversaries in a street scuffle. This bottom-rung hustler, played by Terrence Howard, is given so much background biography and attention that he seems not so much the hero's foil as the displaced main protagonist. The conflict is a mechanical one. Tatum can make more money for his manager by throwing a big fight, but his obdurate pride won't allow him to lose deliberately.

The movie is a mess, but in a good way. It wanders the streets in the tatters of earlier screenplay drafts, distracted by a romantic subplot here, a colorful minor character there. That's the restless, chaotic New York I experience when I visit the city, a place where there's no organizing hub to events, but a million whirlpools of disconnected motion. Everybody's defending their sacred patch of the sidewalk; feisty Altagracia Guzman, as the ingenue's granny, seems resentful that Tatum is stealing not her beloved girl but her camera time.

The film has the scruffy lived-in texture of Scorsese's "Mean Streets," without the engrossing spiritual theme. It's all footnotes, hardly any main story, and overcompensates by jacking up the violence. The last scene, a feel-good escape to greener pastures, feels less like a conclusion than a flight from the movie's shapelessness.

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