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Friday, October 4, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Not-so-hot 'Wasabi' diverts, but fails to satisfy

Seattle Times movie critic

"Wasabi"


**
With Jean Reno, Ryoko Hirosue, Michel Muller, Carole Bouquet. Directed by Grard Krawczyk, from a screenplay by Luc Besson. 94 minutes. Rated R for some violence. In French and Japanese with English subtitles. Varsity.

Jean Reno, with a grayish pallor and bags under his eyes big enough to carry groceries in, is the weary-looking hero of "Wasabi," a puzzling little action comedy from director Gérard Krawczyk and writer/producer Luc Besson (a frequent Reno collaborator). The film, unfortunately, has little action and little comedy — but it does have Reno, whose sandpaper-voiced, suave persona is always diverting. (He's so cool he can gobble wasabi — the dangerously hot Japanese condiment — as if it's guacamole. His table companion is less fortunate.)

"Wasabi" has one other ace up its sleeve: Ryoko Hirosue, a skinny-limbed young actor who plays Reno's newly discovered teenage daughter, Yumi, as if she's channeling Sarah Jessica Parker in "L.A. Story." Hirosue, a pop star in Japan, giggles, prances, skips and charms her way through the film, swooping through a trendy department store like a graceful bird seeking prey. This odd couple makes an unlikely but appealing pair, especially when he has her practice French pronunciation.

Good thing, because there certainly isn't much else here to occupy 94 minutes. The movie takes forever to get started, but eventually we learn that Reno's character Hubert is a rogue Paris cop who likes to punch people in the nose and is unlucky in love. This takes, oh, about a third of the movie, and requires the services of Carole Bouquet in an entirely unnecessary cameo. (As befits a former Bond Girl, though, Bouquet looks terrific.)

Eventually, but not before far too many people end up with nosebleeds, Hubert ends up in Japan (which seems entirely populated by French speakers — the Japanese actors speak Japanese to each other, but subtitled French to Hubert). He's been summoned because of the death of Yumi's mother, whom he had loved some 19 years ago and who now seems to have mysterious ties with the yakuza. Former colleagues and a lot of tough guys in black suits turn up, giving Hubert even more faces to punch, but except for a nifty trick involving a golf club and two balls, not much is memorable.

"Wasabi" is slight fare indeed, with the entire project having the feel of something tossed off quickly (like one of Hubert's punches), but it should go down smoothly enough with popcorn.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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