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Take the Yen and Run

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2000


    'Adrenaline Drive' Masanobu Ando and Hikari Ishida launder some loot in "Adrenaline Drive."
(Shooting Gallery)
When a timid rental car clerk named Suzuki forgets to switch off a gas stove, he unwittingly sets off an explosion that kills a building full of gangsters and changes his life forever. But we're talking comedy here, not "GoodFellas."

Welcome to the setup for "Adrenaline Drive," a vibrant caper comedy that takes gentle digs at the social strictures of Japanese society as it follows a relatively straightforward everybody-wants-the-money plot line.

Let's back up: Suzuki has been hauled into a gangster's lair for driving into the back of a hoodlum's car.

Now facing the wrath of the gangster, or yakuza, Kuroiwa (Yutaka Matushige) and his henchmen, Suzuki awaits his uncertain fate. An underling orders him to make some tea. Suzuki turns on the gas. Someone calls him away. He forgets to close the valve . . .

When the smoke clears, the surviving Suzuki (Masanobu Ando) finds himself surrounded by dead gangsters, as well as a timid nurse named Shizuko (Hikari Ishida) who rushes in to help the victims. Also lying around: Kuroiwa, still alive, and about 200 million yen.

You can see the story line stretched out before you, as well as the inevitable romance between Suzuki and Shizuko. But Shinobu Yaguchi, who wrote, edited and directed the movie, only pays lip service to the cliches. He's more interested in the liberating effect of this money.

It seems these characters – the nerdy Suzuki, the meek Shizuko and a group of yakuza drones who weren't in the building at the time of the explosion – are just dying to be freed from their dead-end positions.

As soon as they learn about that stash of cash, they go crazy. Suddenly, the rules don't apply any more. With money, Suzuki won't have to rent cars. Shizuko won't have to nurse. And those yakuza won't ever have to listen to their gangland boss anymore – at least that's what they think until they realize he's very much alive.

Although Yaguchi builds a story around two almost annoyingly passive heros, Suzuki and Shizuko slowly come to life. Little by little, as if the money itself has boosted their self-confidence, they become more active; and they back into love with each other.

Actually, Shizuko – who switches modes from wallflower to a sort of sexy Tokyo Femme Nikita – becomes the liveliest. When a thief snatches her share of the money and boards a bus, she chases him all the way to a convenience store, then wrestles with him. When the thief suffers a cardiac arrest, she can't help herself. She administers CPR, saves his life, and makes the evening news.

"Adrenaline Drive" is a pleasure because of zany developments like this, and a healthy dose of amusing characters. Those six yakuza henchmen – actually a real-life comedy troupe known as Jovi Jova – are too hilariously off-the-wall to be a danger to anyone. And the hospital's head nurse (Kazue Tsunogae) is a live wire herself: a no-nonsense figure who orders the bandaged Kuroiwa, hobbling around on crutches, to stay in his bed. But when he offers her 3 million yen to drive him around and help him retrieve the money, she changes her tune.

Nursing is one thing. Money's quite another. She packs him into her tiny car, starts the engine and heads out in search of the good life.

ADRENALINE DRIVE (Unrated, 111 minutes) – Contains obscenity and minor violence.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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