Wasabi by Gérard Krawczyk
Man, I’m so tired of the French getting a bad rap. After all, these are the people who gave us Jean Reno, and if that’s not reason enough to be allies then I don’t know what is. In Wasabi, Reno (who absolutely ruled in The Professional) plays Hubert, a stressed cop whose unorthodox methods (he prefers to punch first and ask questions later) always get him in trouble. When he discovers that his one true love, a Japanese woman he knew 19 years ago, has died, he returns to Japan to set her affairs in order.
However, and this may come as a bit of a shock, things get pretty complicated real fast. Hubert discovers that he has a daughter named Yumi (Ryoko Hirosue), uncovers some suspicious details surrounding his lover’s death, and soon has to start dispatching Yakuza thugs left and right.
Reno is solid as always, and dominates the picture. But to be honest, he doesn’t have anyone to really play off of, and spends most of the movie wearing various expressions of bewilderment. Hirosue is ultra-cute as Yumi, but she’s no Natalie Portman. Michel Muller does come close to stealing the spotlight, though, as Hubert’s bumbling sidekick Momo. Actually, most of the movie’s best scenes involve him somehow. But beyond those two, all of the other characters are pretty stock, especially the Yakuza thugs, which are essentially faceless.
At times, Wasabi evokes too many similarities to The Professional (i.e. socially repressed man with a haunted, violent past has to take care of a precocious, bratty kid), and the movie runs with the “fish out of water” humor a bit too much. Sure, watching Reno play Dance Dance Revolution is hilarious, but after awhile the “look at the big French guy stick out like a sore thumb” shtick gets old.
As can be expected from a Luc Besson picture (he wrote and produced it), Wasabi has tons of style and some pretty decent action (especially when Hubert starts taking out Yakuza in the mall while Yumi shops away). However, the plot gets sacrificed every time a decision between “continuity” and “cool” has to be made, which would explain why we never find out how so many Japanese can speak fluent French. Wasabi isn’t a horrible movie by any means, but it’s a bit too whimsical and lighthearted for its own good.