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[whitespace] 'Wasabi' Paris Punch: French cop Jean Reno spends most of his time in 'Wasabi' looking for somebody to crack in the nose.

French Punch

'Wasabi' is a movie that stings the nose

By Richard von Busack

JEAN RENO plays Hubert, a cop who runs around Paris looking for people to punch. When he belts them, they fly in the air and smash into doors. The effect is even better when there's glass behind them, because then the glass scatters. Hubert begins the movie punching out a blonde. But the wig comes off--she's a man, baby! In the film Wasabi, Hubert's first punching bags are other filthy inverted transvestites who are a part of a gang of bank robbers. When Reno punches out the teeth of one of them, he gallantly offers the perverted creature a cigarette afterward. "You know how to treat a lady," simpers the freakish tranny through a mouthful of bloody chicklets.

Then it's supper time, with Sofia (Carole Bouquet--oh, you short-memoried devils, from That Obscure Object of Desire and, on a lesser level, For Your Eyes Only). This great beauty of her day is flirting with Reno, who looks like a giant hamster sculpted out of gray oatmeal. Despite her attention, he can't warm up. He's a complicated man. Bashing fruits in the mouth all day takes it out of him. Plus he's mooning over his lost Japanese sweetheart from 19 years ago. Out of the blue, a Japanese lawyer who speaks perfect French calls Hubert up from Tokyo and tells him that his lost Japanese girlfriend has cacked, and he's inherited something and would he pretty please fly over?

Hubert's up to the challenge. Besides, punching out some foreigners will be a nice change. This modern Madame Butterfly never told Hubert she gave birth to Hubert's dippy Japanese daughter, Yumi (Ryoko Hirosue), who speaks near-perfect French, dresses like Cyndi Lauper and jumps around like a sugared-out kindergartener. Every character in this movie has a thing. Hubert's is punching people, Yumi's thing is she loves to shop! Shopping makes her jump up and down like crazy! Regrettably, she's too short-attention-spanned to realize that her mom's in a coffin right below her. Fortunately, the gimlet-eyed Hubert notices traces of poison on the cadaver. It's murder, and that means someone's responsible. In this case, the Yakuza.

Films from The Big Blue to The Fifth Element have all amply demonstrated that Luc Besson is the worst thing to happen to the French cinema since the fall of the Maginot Line. Through his new Europa studios, Besson produced this very dumb policier, with Gerard Krawczyk directing. Krawczyk counts as a usual suspect, having also directed the Besson-produced Taxi 2. He can be called the Michael Bay to the other man's Jerry Bruckheimer. The press notes for Wasabi, which identify the title condiment as "the hot mustard that stings the nose," includes an interview with Reno, praising Karawczk's professionalism: "He goes to work unencumbered by the state of his soul." Soul is one quality this crappy cartoony movie is without. As one of the first Europa movies to be released here, it's a harbinger of things to come.

Wasabi (R; 94 min.), directed by Gerard Krawczyk, written by Luc Besson, photographed by Gerard Sterin and starring Jean Reno, Carole Bouquet and Ryoko Hirosue, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the October 3-9, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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