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Looting a Hollywood movie star's back-catalogue to capitalise on their new found success is something of a regular occurrence in the DVD industry. More often than not, this provides curiosity value as we see a favourite actor 'slumming it' in B-movie territory. While the prospect of Viggo Mortensen in American Yakuza is not quite as intriguing as that of Nicole Kidman in BMX Bandits, the former has found it's way back onto the DVD market with new packaging and a ‘Special Edition’ tag. This action film starring a pre- Lord of the Rings Mortensen was released to universal apathy back in 1993 and even the original DVD release could raise little but a few eyebrows. However, there remains the possibility that this could be a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Okay, so that's unlikely...but let's at least have a look at it.

American Yakuza
Movie
Operating under the guise of a newly released ex-convict, David Brandt (Mortensen) is really an FBI agent who has been assigned to learn about the inner workings of the Yakuza. Employed by a company with links to them, Brandt comes to the aid of one of their high-profile members when the company is attacked by the American Mafia. Gaining the confidence of his new 'family', Brandt develops strong bonds and friendships. With enemies in the form of the FBI and the Mafia closing in, Brandt gradually becomes uncertain of where his loyalties truly lie.

First things first, American Yakuza isn't a great movie. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to call it 'good'. The plot is, in actuality, a thinly developed rehash of some other movies ( Point Break springs to mind) with a requisite number of action sequences. In a half-hearted attempt at a 'twist', Brandt is not exposed as an FBI officer until we're thirty minutes past the opening credits. It's revealed in a matter-of-fact manner that can only prompt a 'so what?' from the audience. This is par for the course of the film's runtime, with predictable developments and an ending you should be able to guess from the beginning of act two.

The B-Movie fans amongst you, will inevitably cry ‘it's not about the plot’ and, indeed, films such as this exist to provide a couple of thrills and then fade from the memory. However, when the action sequences are so routinely directed, the whole movie loses its purpose. Admittedly, director Frank Capello attempts a little flare early on, but that's long since departed by the time of the half-baked finale. He's not helped by the over-enthusiastic editing. Sonny Baskin seems to be playing with 'my first vision mixer', using a visual assault of pretentious slow-motion and cross-fades. As a result, American Yakuza feels like an extremely long trailer.

American Yakuza
Mortensen is watchable enough, but it's doubtful that Peter Jackson saw anything in this that prompted the casting of Aragon. Truly great actors can rise above their material, while others can only match its quality. Mortensen falls into the latter camp in a role that was probably more suited to the 'talents' of Steven Seagal. Rather than attempt to characterise our protagonist, Copello instead relies on another character simply summing him up with a bunch of clichés. Apparently, our hero is ‘a maverick who plays by his own rules and could, quite possibly, be a loose cannon’. He does, of course, report to a cantankerous FBI Chief, leading to the overwhelming feeling that we've been here a dozen times before.
 
Enough with the negative comments, as there are far worse, big-budget, movies out there. Should you ever find yourself watching American Yakuza, it's possible that you'll want to keep watching until the final credits. While we're not in 'so bad, it's good' territory, American Yakuza is at least 'mediocre but bearable'.

Picture
Grain is apparent throughout much of the movie and there's a fair amount of grime visible in the scenes which take place in broad daylight. Many of the action sequences are based in darkened warehouses and, as a result, the picture quality struggles with a washed-out image and muted blacks. While the picture is consistently sharp, the colours themselves seem bland and lifeless.

American Yakuza
Audio
Although the rather dreary music sounds solid enough through the Dolby Digital 2.0 track, it's the action sequences where things are a let down. Gun shoot-outs, for example, sound flat and muffled, making these scenes all the more un-involving. Dialogue through the front-speaker is also lacking a little clarity whenever there are other elements for the speakers to handle.

Extras
To use the ‘Special Edition’ tag as freely as this is an insult to fans of the digital format. The main attraction is, supposedly, the biography of Viggo Mortensen. With the, frankly ridiculous, title of ‘An Enigma Uncovered’, this is a well written, but not overly concise, piece of text. The other cast members are not afforded the same treatment, presumably because they didn't go on to appear in a certain blockbusting fantasy trilogy.

A laughably bad trailer manages to do the film few favours, but it's more enjoyable than the stills gallery, which consists of ten rather dull photos from the movie.

American Yakuza
Overall
There's nothing like a good action movie and, well, you know the rest. Those fans of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy who are now actively seeking every prior feature made by the ensemble cast, may find this to be an intriguing prospect but the lack-lustre extras mean that this isn't quite the bargain it should be. For those with no such interest in the past exploits of the Middle-Earth cast, there's little here to recommend.


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