‘Bunraku’ tries too hard to do too much, eventually accomplishing little

Killer No. 2 (Kevin McKidd) is wonderfully evil and over-the-top, but nothing else in the movie lives up to his performance.

Killer No. 2 (Kevin McKidd) is wonderfully evil and over-the-top, but nothing else in the movie lives up to his performance.

There’s one scene, I think, that sums up the frustrating final product that is Bunraku.

The Drifter (Josh Hartnett) walks into a bar. The Bartender (Woody Harrelson) stands ready to serve, and a group/gang of men in steam punk attire sit at tables. The steam punkers hassle the Drifter to the Bartender’s dismay, a fight ensues, and the Drifter takes care of business.

Why are the guys in the group dressed in steam punk attire? No reason. Why do they bother with the Drifter? Not much of a reason. Why is it necessary that any of this happen in a bar? So at some point there can be a lame joke about a really expensive drink. I think, I’m just guessing here.

Writer/director Guy Moshe creates a visually stimulating film, kind of a mish-mash of Dick Tracy and Sin City. Each set is unique and awash in color. The costumes – such as the odes to samurai culture and Prohibition-Era gangsters – create clear-cut boundaries between characters and groups of characters. Hartnett, Harrelson, Ron Perlman, Demi Moore and Kevin McKidd – who really put on a show as Killer No. 2 – all give solid performances.

But the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Faith No More’s Mike Patton is the narrator, but his exposition lacks any importance, is too frequent and not that good. There are times Harrelson has a look on his face like “I can’t believe the paycheck I received to regurgitate this ridiculousness.” The story sort of lurches from scene to scene until the inevitable showdown sought by the two good guys, the Drifter and Yoshi. I’ll be honest, I no longer even remember why the Drifter was seeking revenge.

Some of that would have been served by having a clearer understanding of why everything needed to happen. That central question – What’s the point? – isn’t addressed well. Bunraku, with the right story and dialogue and mixed with Moshe’s visual style, could have been, at the very least, a cult classic.

Unfortunately, it just ends up feeling like an opportunity wasted.

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