Adrenaline Drive

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Adrenaline Drive

It's long been common for American independents to infuse old genres with a heavy dollop of the self-consciously offbeat, but this affectation has yielded diminishing returns over time, as quirkiness itself has become a tired and familiar convention. Japanese director Shinobu Yaguchi's delightful Adrenaline Drive works in the same secondhand tradition, yet it has the quality of good bubblegum pop, finding catchy new variants on the three-chord, verse-chorus-verse formula. Equal parts Takeshi Kitano-inspired gangster comedy, lovers-on-the-lam road movie, and fairy-tale romance, Adrenaline Drive is a triumph of low-key whimsy, insubstantial in the best sense of the word. The busy setup begins with timid young rental-car clerk Masanobu Ando rear-ending a black Jaguar owned by fearsome Yakuza thug Yutaka Matsushige. When the gangster takes Ando back to the Yakuza lair for payment, a freak gas explosion kills off nearly everyone in the room, sparing only the seriously injured Matsushige, the unscathed Ando, and a briefcase full of cash. Fate plays a hand in bringing quiet, bookish nurse Hikari Ishida to the scene, where a complicated series of events leads her and Ando to take the money and hit the road together. Their similar temperaments—painfully shy and deferential, with little worldly experience—make Ishida and Ando an endearing pair, but they also serve as an earthbound counterpoint to the cartoon that swirls around them. Yaguchi stocks the periphery with colorful supporting players, including Matsushige, who projects menace even in a full-body cast, and a hilarious group of would-be Yakuza punks (played by the comedy troupe Jovi Jova), who are more naturally inclined toward snacking than administering beatings. Despite the threat of gangsters (however bumbling) at every turn, there's plenty of adventure but no real danger in Adrenaline Drive, which leaves nothing to taint the delectable sweetness of Yaguchi's confection.

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