Maeda Tetsu's latest effort "Yoki Na Gang Ga Chikyuu O Mawasu" is as bright and cheerful as the name suggests. Based on Isaka Kotaro's 2003 novel, this heist/comedy reminds me a lot of George Roy Hill's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", another film which centered around the exploits of a group of unconventional "gentleman" bandits.
Set in an unnamed metropolis (Tokyo?) in modern day Japan, this eclectic band of thieves comprise of Kyono (a likable bar owner with a knack for philosophical gab), Yukiko (a stunning driving school instructor with impeccable timing and racecar driving skills), Kuon (a high school student who is also an accomplished pickpocket) and Naruse (a civil servant who is a "human lie detector). Brought together by a love of "romantic" adventure, they make a name for themselves as flamboyant and strangely entertaining bank robbers who rob not by blunt force but through disarming style and charm.
Unfortunately, this notoriety brings some unwanted attention in the form of a rival gang who wants a piece of the action. By threatening the life of Yukiko's young boy, they force the "Cheerful Gang" to perform a series of bank robberies for them.
Part "Bonnie & Clyde" and "Lupin The Third" with a bit of "Usual Suspects" thrown in for good measure, "Cheerful Gang" is a fun heist flick with a fast style similar to Guy Ritchie's "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" but without the violence and shock.
The cast is likable and entertaining with Osawa Takao (Sky High;Aragami) and Suzuki Kyoko (Godzilla vs. Biolante; Otoko Tachi No Yamato) being particularly great. Sato Koichi (Makai Tensho '03; Shin Jingi Naki Tatakai '00; Rasen) makes another fun performance in his role as the thief/philosopher Kyono.
I found the story to be a little weak in many respects. As mentioned, Maeda borrows a lot from other caper films without bringing anything new to the genre mix except for the stylistic flourishes (which are indeed fun). While the cast of characters are likable, they aren't particularly interesting or memorable as people. Except for Kyoko, we hardly know much about them as characters outside of their jobs, personalities and unique skills.
Some may also tire of the non-linear structure of the movie, the slow-mo "bullet-time" and anime-like CG effects along with the silly comedy. The movie does not seem to be grounded in reality and is more like a psychedelic, flashy world were the laws of physics don't seem to apply.
While nowhere near as good as similarly themed movies like "Ocean's Eleven", "Cheerful Gang" does get the job done but I would have wanted a movie with a bit more of a story and perhaps less flash.
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