Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Kite: Sort of Like the Anime, but with Samuel L. Jackson

It is supposed to be a near future dystopia, but the post-crash world where roving “numbers gangs” abduct young children for a Middle Eastern human trafficker is not as outlandish as it ought to be. However, a strung-out teenage girl wages war against the cartel with the help of a morally problematic flat foot. It should all sound familiar to anime fans, for good reason. Yasuomi Umetsu’s anime gets the live action remake treatment in Ralph Ziman’s Kite (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select cities.

It looks like the return of the Dinkins Administration, but on a national scale. Anarchy reigns, as numbers gangs rove the streets and the cops are either too scared or too corrupt to interfere. Karl Aker is the exception. The hard-charging detective has been secretly working to bring down the shadowy white slaver known as the Emir with his secret weapon: Sawa.

After her father, Aker’s partner, was murdered by the Emir’s henchmen, Sawa allowed the cop to pump her full of more juice than major league baseball consumed in 1998. Aker’s narcotic makes her lethal and fast-healing, but it is also addictive and makes her forget. Still, in Sawa’s world there is not much worth remembering. At least, that is how she hazily sees it. Oburi begs to differ. Claiming to be a childhood friend, the would-be Samaritan purports to know important secrets from her past.

Arguably, the Kite concept simply works better in anime than as an exploitative remake. Frankly, India Eisley is not bad as the haunted Sawa, but she looks lighter than a box of Kleenex and more fragile than a crystal rose, making her butt-kicking scenes rather difficult to buy into, especially considering she does not have any super-powers beyond an anesthetizing buzz.

Of course, Samuel L. Jackson should be money in the bank for a film like this, but he is oddly restrained as Aker, only nibbling on the scenery rather gorging as we would hope and expect. Still, when he does his stone cold thing, it is still cool. Unfortunately, the rest of the ensemble is rather nondescript, including Callan McAuliffe, who certainly does not look like an Oburi.

Ziman’s take on Kite is not nearly as lurid or nihilistic as critics made the source anime out to be. In fact, there is a moral center to the film. Instead, its overriding sin is its general tepidness. Only for franchise fanatics, the under-performing Kite opens this Friday (10/10) in New York.