Versus

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Versus

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Versus

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For diehard cultists raised on anime, kung-fu, the Evil Dead trilogy, and other bad-ass cinematic junk food, Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus comes custom-ordered for the most jaded geek, a non-stop action gorefest with elements of Highlander, George Romero's zombie movies, and graphic comic books. The set-ups for fight sequences are quick and rudimentary, with the scenes running together like successive rounds of a Mortal Kombat game powered by a pocketful of quarters. None of the characters have names–the credits list them as "Hero," "Heroine," "Ponytail," "Suit," and so on–because they're all defined by their varying degrees of style and exuberant nastiness. (For example, "Villain" is the dude who sinks his teeth into a still-beating heart as if it were Chairman Kaga's fresh red pepper on TV's Iron Chef.) In short, Versus delivers every item in the super-cool catalog, needing only a minimal excuse to rev up the electric guitars or dance-club percussion and dive straight into the bloody mayhem. So why is it all so dull and dispiriting? Just as few feel inclined to watch a pornographic video all the way through, there's a limit to what the senses can handle before overloading and shutting down. Without any connective tissue, such as a compelling story or interesting characters, the multiple climaxes are diminished by repetition, exciting for a few isolated minutes but excruciating over two full hours. Making his entrance with a guard's severed hand dangling from his handcuffs, Tak Sakaguchi stars as an escaped convict who waits on the edge of the woods for a rendezvous with Yakuza men, who will presumably help him reenter society. But when the first wave of Yakuza arrives with guns blazing, Sakaguchi grabs their mysterious female hostage (Chieko Misaka) and heads into the fabled Forest Of Resurrection, where the dead are reborn into samurai zombies. The scenario seems simple enough until chief baddie Hideo Sakaki arrives for a predestined mano-a-mano with Sakaguchi, a battle between immortals that will open "a portal to the other side," whatever and wherever that might be. The central problem with Versus is similar to that of the Highlander series: If two warriors are fated to fight each other for eternity (or however long the sequels and TV spin-offs will take them), then there's really nothing much at stake. Making his feature debut, Kitamura shows off a full arsenal of high-tech guns and swords, moves the camera in 360-degree swirls, and gives each character plenty of time to strike a cool pose before zipping around on wires. His kitchen-sink aesthetic leads to a few winning bits of slapstick horror, but by making every second exciting, the hours pass in an excruciating crawl.

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