A decade ago, French filmmaker Luc Besson was fielding accusations that his slick, Hollywood-style action movies (La Femme Nikita, The Professional) would be the death of European cinema. The criticisms were overblown, though Besson has spread his tendrils across the continent and beyond, drafting protégés willing to deploy his brand of breezy, hyper-stylized violence. One of those disciples, Gérard Krawczyk, worked for Besson on the Taxi film series, and has just directed Besson's script for Wasabi, a zany guns/chases/kung-fu thriller that cuts the kinetic flash and vulgarity of the global action genre with the mildly sophisticated slapstick of France's other questionable movie populist, Francis Veber. Besson regular Jean Reno stars as a Paris policeman with a propensity for excessive force. After he inadvertently punches out the police chief's son, Reno is forced to take a two-month vacation, which he elects to spend in Tokyo in order to attend the funeral of a woman with whom he'd had an affair 19 years earlier. When he arrives, Reno discovers that his former lover was murdered, and that she had a daughter (Ryoko Hirosue) who may be in danger. With the help of buffoonish émigré Michel Muller, Reno hunts the killers and shields the clueless, 19-year-old Hirosue, whose big nose looks suspiciously like his own. At 90 minutes, Wasabi is shorter and more tightly structured and edited than the typical explosive American blockbuster, though no zippier than an above-average American TV drama. It moves along quickly on a narrow path, stopping briefly to elaborate on such extraneous details as a gang of bank-robbing transsexuals, a cremation viewed via closed-circuit television, a frenetic Japanese arcade, and Reno's ability to eat the pungent title condiment by the fingerload. Much of the film's humor is steeped in Gallic specificity, from the lecherous clowning of French comedian Muller or the attempts to play off Reno's stoicism by making him dance and do double-takes. Most of Wasabi's upbeat energy comes from Hirosue, who takes the common Bessonian waif—part helpless little girl, part self-aware love object—and adds graceful touches of orphan pathos and pop-addled loopiness. On the whole, Wasabi offers watchable light entertainment, even though the prospect of the most respected national cinema indulging clunky cop-movie stereotypes is, if not scandalous, then at least disappointing.

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