- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

"Brother" is the first serious rival to "Freddy Got Fingered" as the worst movie of 2001. Since "Brother" is a lazy, depraved Japanese dud — the latest vanity production of the triple-threat amateur who performs under the name Beat Takeshi and purports to write and direct under the name Takeshi Kitano one probably could stretch a point and make room for both pictures as exemplary rot. Mr. Kitano became an inexplicable Japanese favorite as a TV personality and contrived to augment his appeal by playing tough guys in deadpan crime melodramas.

His ninth feature, "Brother" is the first that transplants his gangster persona to the United States. Specifically, Los Angeles, where the hero, assigned the alias Sakomoto, is exiled after slaughtering too many members of either his own or a rival yakuza clan.

Simple expository points often are obscured by Mr. Kitano's flat-footed approach to exposition.

A good deal of the first reel is devoted to a prolonged flashback that lacks adequate grounding and basic information.

As a rule, make-believe thugs stand around until it becomes necessary for Mr. Kitano to assault them, typically at gunpoint, leaving picturesque tableaux of bloodstained corpses.

Seldom does a victim or executioner impose on dramatic interest, so these violent encounters are more perfunctory than suspenseful or compelling.

Mr. Kitano has a method that would tend to cut costs: He rarely needs more than two rehearsals or two takes for any given scene.

Judging from the finished product, one suffices more often than not and that could be the first rehearsal, cleverly recorded by Mr. Kitano to save time and money.

"Brother" is cynically and sometimes grotesquely calculated to pander to a black urban audience. The exiled thug moves in with a half-brother named Ken (Claude Maki), who is engaged in the drug trade.

Kind of a typhoid yakuza, Sakomoto foments turf wars with Mexican-American, Asian-American, African-American and ultimately Italian-American criminals, succumbing to the Italians for reasons of convenience or cultural inferiority that defy analysis.

If anything, the logic of Mr. Kitano's persona is that he's a scurvy superman, empowered to wipe out all opposition, regardless of race or national origin.

Despite the black rivals who fall by the wayside, Sakomoto acquires a devoted sidekick in Omar Epps as Denny, one of Ken's cronies. This beautiful relationship must withstand an initial flare-up, when Denny bumps into Sakomoto on the street and breaks the bottle of booze the latter has been clutching.

Sakomoto retrieves it and slashes Denny in the eye with the jagged edge. The hostility is an ugly fake-out because Denny can't get enough of Sakomoto's teasing from that point on. Denny repeatedly is the butt of practical jokes, certainly an improvement on repeated eye slashings.

Eventually, Sakomoto leaves him a criminal's legacy, proving that he had a hidden soft spot all along.

Mr. Kitano's soft spot is located in his head and reveals itself in the pathetic indomitability he needs to project as deadly thugs.

Presumably, he has his reasons, apart from the self-evident ego gratification.

Growing up undersized and unattractive in Japan in the generation after a calamitous war might encourage some lunatic overcompensation in self-assertive types. Mr. Kitano, probably influenced by Toshiro Mifune and Clint Eastwood, although physically closer to a sawed-off Jack Palance, seems to have made his stupefying masquerade work for the home market.

The American market remains marginal, confined for the most part to a generation of film critics who overrate anything that can be called "film noir" and get a charge out of facetious brutality.

"Brother" makes a slack pitch to a larger public while condescending in every way.

If the target audience welcomes it with open arms, chump-change entertainment may be their only option.

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