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Review: Bunraku, starring Josh Hartnett and Ron Perlman

Sep. 3, 2011by: Eric Walkuski

Now  available on VOD and in theatres on September 30, 2011.

PLOT: In a surreal world, where guns have been banned and everything looks like its on a stage, a lone gunslinger (Josh Hartnett) enters a town terrorized by a ruthless boss (Ron Perlman) with an intent to kill the man. Not an easy task, however, since the villain has seemingly hundreds of henchmen at his disposal. The mysterious avenger will have to enlist the help of a skilled samurai (Gackt) and a sardonic bartender (Woody Harrelson) if he's to take down the massive gang. .

REVIEW: It's almost impossible to describe BUNRAKU without either making it sound too cool or too lame Like a pop-up book crossed with a particularly ambitious Broadway set, it is at different times a film noir, a samurai action flick, a western, a comic-book movie. Sometimes it's all of those at the same time. Set entirely on vividly detailed, neon-colored soundstages, BUNRAKU tells a mostly familiar story - revenge and retribution in a violent land - with a decidedly unfamiliar presentation. (Think DICK TRACY's crazy cousin.) That said, it won't be for everyone, as its style and personality are garish in the extreme; anyone looking for "gritty" or "subtle" had better look elsewhere.

The main attraction here, other than the elaborate set design, are the fight sequences; and there are plenty. Since one of the story's angles is that guns have been outlawed, there are ample opportunities for fisticuffs and all manner of swordplay. The two lead characters, played by Josh Hartnett and the androgynous Japanese singer Gackt, have an especially long and amusing throwdown in Woody Harrelson's bar - the obligatory fight where they must feel each other out before they can team up. Another highlight is a battle under the Big Top, as Hartnett squares off a particularly agile foe on a circus net. And there are a dozen more. The choreography is almost always impressive, but through director Guy Moshe's lens, these sequences are given a quirky, eccentric atmosphere.

If BUNRAKU ever fails to entertain, it's during its protracted sequences of attempted drama, which mostly fall flat. Since this is, for the most part, a comic book come to life, there isn't a whole lot to invest in regarding the emotional elements. Certainly, a feeling of "let's get to the next fight scene!" pervades.

The lulls are through no fault of its cast. Everyone here seems to be enjoying themselves, especially Kevin McKidd, who goes way over-the-top and into another dimension as the dedicated henchman to Perlman's boss. Perlman, it must be said, looks quite bizarre sporting a ridiculous floppy hat atop filthy hair, but the man's laconic growling is as intimidating as always. Demi Moore has a small supporting turn as a woman he holds captive, but hers is a mostly perfunctory role. I'm not lying when I say it might have been fun to see her and Harrelson reunite for more than a second (c'mon, INDECENT PROPOSAL, people!), but then again, Harrelson spends most of his screentime counseling our two heroes as they splash goons around town with aplomb. Color me surprised; I figured his appearance was to be little more than a cameo, but Woody is in it for the long haul. To his credit, he always looks thoroughly tickled.

BUNRAKU is something different. It won't change your perspective on movies or even necessarily provoke you to scream its praises from the rooftops. But what it will do is give you some eye candy that's quite sugary and kind of tasty, depending on your appetite. Would you prefer the same old junk?

Extra Tidbit: BUNRAKU is now available On Demand. It hits theaters on SEPTEMBER 30th.

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