The Returner

It's the future, and earth is losing a war to invading aliens. Their only hope is Milly (Ann Suzuki, Snow Falling on Cedars, Juvenile), a young girl sent back to the past to prevent the invasion from beginning. So goes The Returner, a mish-mash of nearly every science fiction/time travel movie out there. It takes the premise of The Terminator, mixes it with some E.T.-like aliens, then throws in some Matrix special effects, a plucky girl, cheesy CGI spaceships, and a thoroughly muddled story, and voila, The Returner. Milly arrives in the present only to land in the middle of a gunfight between Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro, Lavender, Space Travelers) and Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani, Graveyard of Honor, Hong Kong Night Club). Miyamoto is an assassin, and accidentally shoots Milly. Feeling remorseful, he nurses her back to health.

Once she is coherent, Milly tricks Miyamoto into helping her, and of course he thinks she is completely daft. He is more concerned with chasing down Mizoguchi, who did something to Miyamoto a long time ago. And because apparently Mizoguchi stuck his finger into an electrical outlet, causing his hair to stick straight up. Milly hopes to prevent the invasion by stopping the first alien ship to arrive, but she is too late. The more that Miyamoto sees, the more he realizes that Milly may be telling the truth. Soon, Mizoguchi discovers the living alien body, and The Returner slowly descends into incomprehension.

A lot happens, but none of it sticks in memory. Writer/director Takashi Yamazaki (Juvenile) spends so much time ripping off other science fiction movies that it is more interesting to guess where certain shots or ideas came from that it is to watch The Returner. It's just a lot of random action scenes cobbled together by a plot that is barely there. It would seem a little better if Yamazkai turned up the lights a little. Lots of the scenes are too dark to notice anything. He was probably going for a grimy, industrial/dystopian look, but it didn't work. Yamazaki also forgot to take into account the most interesting aspects of time travel movies - paradox. If Milly were to change the past, what would happen to the future? Would she even exist? It's this specific issue that makes a sci-fi film much more intelligent, and also gives viewers headaches trying to figure out which side is up. The Returner neatly ignores the matter entirely, causing a large problem at the end of the film, when Yamazaki tries to be clever. Suzuki and Kaneshiro are nice to look at, but there is absolutely nothing going on underneath the surface.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Japanese, Chinese, and English with English subtitles, Rated R for violence.

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