Stylish 'Rising Sun' is true to the book but lacks thriller's tension

December 03, 1993|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

RISING SUN

(Fox, priced for rental, rated R) 1993

Author Michael Crichton was on a cinematic roll this summer, with his two most recent novels -- "Rising Sun" and, of course, "Jurassic Park" -- being turned into nearly simultaneous box-office blockbusters.

Mr. Crichton said in an interview before the opening of "Rising Sun" that, unlike "Jurassic Park," for which he wrote the screenplay, he had disassociated himself with "Rising Sun" early in the pre-production stages. In addition to having a different vision than director Philip Kaufman of the direction the film should take, Mr. Crichton said the task of rewriting and editing what he had already spent months creating was a daunting prospect, something he did not relish even with "Jurassic Park."

Given that background, it's fascinating to see how closely Mr. Kaufman's movie adheres to Mr. Crichton's novel. Nearly every scene is a dramatization of the written page. Little has been added or changed, though, of course, much detail and dialogue has been lost in condensing the film to its two-hour, nine-minute running time.

Two of the three biggest differences come in early sequences. First, there is a distinctly negative tone surrounding the initial scenes involving the Japanese characters. A slick-haired Japanese playboy singing in a karaoke bar quickly turns nasty, with abusive behavior involving a call girl. And a bit later, the music being played at the grand opening of a new Japanese corporation's office building in downtown Los Angeles is unnecessarily ominous.

Secondly, Mr. Kaufman has imbued the early part of the film with a tremendous amount of sensuality, particularly during the pivotal scene in which the same call girl engages in intense sexual activity with an unidentified man on the table of a boardroom on the floor above the grand opening party.

A special police liaison, Web Smith (Wesley Snipes), is called to the scene when the woman is discovered dead on the table and the Japanese are not happy with the abrasive tactics of the police officer handling the investigation (Harvey Keitel). Unbeknown to Smith, an older officer named John Connor (Sean Connery) has been asked to join Smith. Connor, we learn, has spent time in Japan and maintains an ongoing relationship with several Japanese businessmen. He immediately assumes the role of Smith's mentor as the pair begin their own investigation, which involves high-tech security cameras and a tension-filled political environment.

It seems the corporation requires a decisive vote from a certain U.S. senator (Ray Wise). Connor is there to help Smith understand the subtleties of the Japanese culture and communicate effectively within that culture without losing the upper hand in the investigation.

Mr. Connery plays his role as if it were written for him, which is as it should be: Mr. Crichton said the character was written with Mr. Connery in mind. (It's a role not unlike the one Mr. Connery played in "The Untouchables.")

Like the novel, which drew undue criticism for Japanese bashing and xenophobia, the film also drew similar misdirected protests. Actually, the movie does a fine job of presenting a balanced view of all political and ethnic groups. It's not the Japanese who wind up being guilty of any crime nor to blame for anything but attempting to help an American save face (and to avoid a potential controversy that could affect the image of their company). In fact, Connor often explains to protege Smith the superior approach of the Japanese in certain situations. For instance, when Smith is perplexed by the seeming indifference of the Japanese in pinpointing which of them caused a problem, Connor explains that while Americans spend a good deal of time and energy trying to find someone to blame, the Japanese focus on correcting the problem.

Where the film drifts a little off the mark is in its tension factor. For a political thriller, there is precious little feeling of suspense. One has to credit Mr. Kaufman for minimizing the amount of violence and producing an engaging movie without resorting to car chases and shootouts.

The difficulty, then, is in finding another way to create a sense of danger. One tried-and-true device is a powerful musical score, which, unfortunately, is "Rising Sun's" greatest deficiency.

Nonetheless, this is a stylish and engaging mystery drama, which once again spotlights Mr. Connery's commanding screen presence and reaffirms Mr. Snipes' acting talents.

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