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By Blaine Fidler | March 10, 2005

Ever get a sense of déjà vu while watching a movie? A little itch in the back of your brain that tells you that you’ve seen this s**t before? You’ll be experiencing that sensation an awful lot while watching Takashi Yamazaki’s “Returner,” not that that’s an entirely bad thing in this case. More on that later.

It’s 2084 and humanity finds itself on the verge of extinction after a prolonged war with invading aliens. During a decisive attack lone survivor Milly (Anne Suzuki) escapes the carnage using a time portal built with the intent of sending a soldier back 2002 to kill the alien who’s crash landing on Earth was the precursor to the invasion. Once in 2002, two days before the alien’s arrival, Milly hooks up with gunslinger Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who’s on a mission of his own: to kill Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani) the Japanese front man for a Chinese triad that deals in black market human organs harvested from street urchins. Mizoguchi has his own issues to deal with. He’s tired of the old gang hierarchy and is looking to move up through the ranks. Once he learns of the existence of the alien’s recovered spaceship and its occupant he decides he wants to harness its powerful weaponry for himself to usurp control of the gang. Let the stylish, high-octane hijinks ensue as our two heroes, Milly and Miyamoto, race to save the world from a megalomaniacal gangster and the inevitable invasion of pissed-off buggy space aliens.

“Returner” is hardly original and highly derivative to say the least. From “Matrix” stylings to bullet ballet bordering on heroic bloodshed a’la John Woo this movie proudly wears its influences (sources really) on its sleeve. It’s all here, “Matrix,” “Terminator,” “Independence Day,” “E.T.” you name it, but that’s not to say that “Returner” is a bad movie as a result. It’s quite a bit of fun, a snappy, guns blazing, stylized chop sockey sci-fi action flick that feels much shorter than its 117 minute run time. “Returner” has a snappy little story that zips along with plenty of quality, over the top action sequences interspersed with the occasional scenes of overly cutesy humor or juvenile sentiment common to certain lower grade Asian film fare. Takeshi Kaneshiro easily inhabits the role of stylish loner and gunfighter Miyamoto. I can see why the girls go for this guy, with his perfect hair, snappy threads and brooding persona occasionally lightened by moments of light, quick-witted charm. Anne Suzuki as Milly is cute in a fairly non-sexual way that most atavistic, anime-style heroines of Japanese cinema are apparently meant to be. At least the non-sexual ones. As opposed to the creepily hyper sexualized juvenile ones. Anyway…
Rounding out the cast is Goro Kishitani who plays villainous sociopath Mizoguchi with reptilian zeal, laconic for the most part but prone to moments of grand scenery chewing extravagance. Good qualities in a sci-fi, bullet ballet, chop sockey actioner and just the personality type to keep the mood light and the action sequences moving along, for sure.

“Returner” is a CGI heavy movie and the effects, for the most part, work quite well whether we’re being shown heavily mechanized exoskeleton clad warrior aliens, behemoth motherships or variations on the “Matrix’s” over utilized “bullet time” effect. Regarding “bullet time”: I know “Returner” is three years old now but by this point there ought to be a law regarding the use of “bullet time.” I’m just saying…

So, “Returner” isn’t going to be winning any awards for originality but as a Friday night beer and pizza flick you could do a lot worse, a hell of a lot worse. Action, mayhem, fisticuffs and things blowing up real good, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, mark “Returner” down as a not-so-guilty pleasure.

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