- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2000

''Non-Stop," a Japanese import booked at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry as part of the Shooting Gallery film series, could be mistaken for a replica of the German art-house sleeper "Run Lola Run."

But "Non-Stop" apparently was made two years before "Lola." (In that stylistic exercise, a heroine's cross-town sprint with enough cash to ransom her boyfriend, a drug dealer in a jam, was contrived to stretch over 90 minutes, courtesy of alternate scenarios and the photogenic distraction of a redhead in a T-shirt as the object of suspenseful curiosity.)

In "Non-Stop," which aggravates the school of affectation in which stylization is meant to be its own reward, filmmaker Hiroki Tanaka (who calls himself "Sabu") attempts to keep three shallow characters on the run for about 80 minutes. Probably borrowing from silent-film comedy but without effective comic relief, he has the first runner chased by a second. That runner then is chased by a third.

As night falls over Tokyo, the endless chase becomes more abstract and absurd — and eventually liberates the runners of any motive for persisting. Nevertheless, they barge three abreast into a concluding deathtrap, which may or may not seem like a fitting ludicrous fate.

Runner No. 1, called Yasuda (Tomorow Taguchi), is a browbeaten wimp who panics while attempting a bank robbery. He gets only as far as casing the bank during the first 10 minutes or so.

On the threshold of pulling the job, sad sack Yasuda remembers that he forgot to wear a mask. But he acts so suspiciously while shoplifting a mask at a nearby convenience store that the clerk, a former rock singer and chronic drug addict called Aizawa (Diamond Yukai), scares him into flight.

On the way out, Yasuda also abandons an automatic, which the clerk retrieves and chases him with at gunpoint. After a bit of picturesque dodging and weaving among pedestrians, Aizawa collides with Takeda (Shinichi Tsutsumi), a yakuza thug who recognizes him.

Runner No. 2 owes Runner No. 3 some money, it turns out. So the third leg commences, with Takeda brandishing a knife as he chases Aizawa, who continues to chase Yasuda with the gun.

Since not even a director as elementary as Sabu imagines that he can keep a feature going on images of three guys running in tandem while never quite catching up with one another, the flight scenes are punctuated with flashbacks and digressions. The flashbacks neglect to enhance our appreciation of the runners with all sorts of interesting character points. The digressions grope for distraction.

What the movie does demonstrate is how pointless a chase thriller can be when there's nothing worth chasing. "Non-Stop" is essentially on the run from its own emptiness — an emptiness with a tiresomely barbarous emphasis at that. If Sabu had set out to demonstrate that an actor in motion or the camera in motion can be a source of paradoxical cinematic boredom and inertia, he could not have done a more effective job.

Every diverting conversational comedy ever made is more cinematic than "Non-Stop," in part because of an awareness that many interesting things can be observed and revealed when actors stay put.

Even so, filmmakers cannot resist chasing a wrongheaded aesthetic notion up a dead-end. Having done that for starters, Sabu seems unlikely to have much of an encore in his system.

TITLE: "Non-Stop"RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter revolving around crime and hardened criminals, occasional profanity, graphic violence, fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse)CREDITS: Written and directed by Sabu. Cinematography by Syuji Kuriyama. Production design by Mitsuo Endo. Editing by Shinji Tanaka, and music by Diamond Yukai. In Japanese with English subtitles.RUNNING TIME: About 80 minutes

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