Lupin The 3rd (Japan 2014)

Rating: **
Review Date: 3/29/15
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Cast: Shun Oguri, Meisa Kuroki, Tetsuji Tamayama, Go Ayano, Tadanobu Asano, Yuka Nakayama

"You actually shot me? Seriously?"

A second attempt to adapt Monkey Punch's beloved Lupin character to live action, which makes me want to see the 1974 original. At first blush, you would think that renegade director Ryuhei Kitamura would be a perfect choice for this project, but he unfortunately comes up a bit short. It's a reimagined origin story of sorts, bringing master thief Lupin III (Shun Oguri), gun expert Jigan (Tetsuji Tamayama), sword master Goeman (Go Ayano), and seductress Fujiko Mine (Meisa Kuroki) together in a heist to avenge their master's death. The exasperated Inspector Zenigata of Interpol (Tadanobu Asano) catches wind of this, and is always one step behind the thieves.

It's a fun and colorful action comedy, but the pacing is sluggish and it fails to be entertaining. While the characters are well cast, no attempt is made to give them any personality or charisma. Sadly, the lovely Meisa Kuroki may be the worst of the bunch. She's unquestionably beautiful, but she's emotionally dead and shows no hint of personality, intelligence, or cunning. She's simply a cipher of sinister sexuality, and her bait-and-switch interactions with Lupin are nothing short of sado-masochistic. Her colored contacts are also a constant distraction, and keep her eyes from fully expressing themselves. Why haven't filmmakers figured out that colored contacts don't photograph well? It's painfully obvious when you see the final results. The male characters don't fare much better and are equally stoic and wooden, and it's hard to care about them. On the plus side, the characters look great and match their animated counterparts quite nicely - even down to Lupin's short pants and chunky shoes. Lupin's tiny yellow car is also a welcomed sight.

Unfortunately, where the film really falls apart is in the action scenes, which are embarrassingly awful. It looks like the filmmakers took some tips from Hollywood by thinking that if they shake the camera around enough, it will look like something's actually happening. Sadly, the quick cuts and jerky camera work result in nothing but a mess of incoherent and nonsensical movement, which betrays how skilled the characters are supposed to be. The car chases (if you can call them that) are especially bad, and the final chase in the film is an unconvincing CGI animation that looks more like an animatic than a production quality clip. Overall, the fight scenes are pretty poor, but Meisa Kuroki gets the best ones. Her bedroom tussle with Yuka Nakayama is definitely the highlight of the film, and they both come across as skilled and serious opponents.

It's not that it's a bad film by any means, but it's certainly disappointing. Everything about it is merely mediocre, when it probably should have been more campy and outrageous. And for a film that relies so heavily on sex, guns, and swordplay, there's surprisingly little blood and exposed skin. It's obvious that the film is aiming for an international family friendly market in order to offset its high production costs, which has the unfortunate side effect of compromising the material. While it's marginally interesting to see the characters in a live action setting, you're probably better off just sticking with the animated series.