Giddy on fumes

Movie: Adrenaline Drive

Our Rating: 3.50

There are moments in "Adrenaline Drive," the new comedy from Japanese director Shinobu Yaguchi ("Down the Drain"), that feel begged, borrowed or stolen outright from some of Hollywood's most nonsensical, least remarkable crime-caper movies. Absurd turns of events, outlandishly hairy escapes, sudden reversals of fortune, enormous personal upheavals -- Yaguchi blends these elements together into a frothy confection that's sweet, if exceedingly familiar.

Still, "Adrenaline Drive" mostly lives up to the promise of its colorful title: From the sound of a car's ignition that signals the start of the adventure to its not unpredictable conclusion, this is a giddy road movie fueled by a kitschy pop sensibility and a script that seldom allows one to pull over to a rest stop and ponder the improbability of its many hairpin turns. It's live action that, in retrospect, seems downright cartoonish.

Suzuki (Masanobu Ando), a timid, unambitious rental-car clerk, knocks down the first in a long line of falling dominoes the old-fashioned way: He finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, behind the wheel of a car that accidentally plows into the rear of a black Jaguar driven by the menacing thug Kuroiwa (Yutaka Matushige). "It's your problem now," Suzuki is told by the annoying coworker who caused the accident, and who watches as the young man is forcibly taken away, ultimately to be led to a lair of gangsters.

One inconvenient gas explosion and a strange ambulance ride later, Suzuki finds himself the co-owner of a metal case filled with a huge stockpile of bloodied bills, 107 million yen to be exact. His partner in what might be the perfect crime (the dough was illegally obtained by people who are presumably dead) is a woman who might be his female counterpart. Shizuko (Hikari Ishida) is a mousy, hard-working nurse, uninterested in participating in the chattering gossip and after-hours partying of her fellow angels in white.

A gang of stumbling, bumbling yakuza, adroitly played by popular Japanese comedy ensemble Jovi Jova, soon show up to stake a claim to the fortune, and the suddenly wealthy Suzuki and Shizuko barely get away. The platonic couple register as husband and wife at a swanky hotel and quickly get to work spending their money on restaurants, new clothes and a makeover for Shizuko that instantly gives her the look of a trendy Tokyo ingenue.

Alas, their troubles aren't over. The romance that promises to bloom between them keeps getting trampled down by misunderstandings. And Kuroiwa, who we last saw banging his feet against the doors of that ambulance as it quickly sank into a canal, proves an apparently indestructible force. The tough yakuza convinces the strict head nurse (Kazue Tsunogae) to take him on a road trip in search of the young couple. The goofball gang also follows the trail that leads to the honeymoon hideout.

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world, one that's sure to become even more complicated before there's a resolution to this comic mess. No matter how unoriginal the jaunt seems at times, it's worth bearing with the plot maneuverings to catch one priceless shot. That inept bunch of gangsters winds up on the side of the road next a to broken-down car, with their noses broken and one of them holding up a sign that reads, "We need help." It's a silly, laugh-out-loud sight, one of plenty that litter Yaguchi's diverting little comedy.

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