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Paramount Studios presents

Gung Ho (1986)

"You see, you're stateside now, fellas, and you're still acting like a bunch of Yokohama mamas, no offense."- Hunt Stevenson (Michael Keaton)

Stars: Michael Keaton, Gedde Watanabe, Mimi Rogers
Other Stars: George Wendt, John Turturro, Clint Howard, Rick Overton, Soh Yamamura
Director: Ron Howard

MPAA Rating: PG-13Run Time: 01h:51m:55s
Release Date: 2002-07-16
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+C-B- D-


DVD Review

Hadleyville, Pennsylvania, the setting of Gung Ho, looks as if it could be the subject of a Bruce Springsteen song: an industrial Midwestern town long past its heyday, where the underwear factory has pulled up stakes and the automobile factory has been shuttered for months. The pizzeria closed this week, the barber shop and the record store are next—a factory town without a factory isn't long for this world.

How, then, are the good people of Hadleyville going to keep their hometown a going concern? By convincing the Japanese auto giant, the Assan Motor Company, to come to town and get the assembly line moving again. And in Hunt Stevenson (Michael Keaton), they've got exactly the man to talk them into it. Gung Ho opens with Hunt lighting out for Tokyo, and amazingly enough, his low-tech but heartfelt sales pitch to Assan does the trick—the Japanese are coming.

The bulk of the story has to do with the wacky culture clash between the Japanese and the Americans—it's ramen noodles versus potato chips, essentially. The movie plays on the anxiety of every American laborer fearful that there's somebody in some undeveloped country prepared to do their job for pennies on the dollar, or, worse, that they're eminently replaceable by a machine or a bit of software. It's an understandably virulent strain in the American psyche, especially during times of economic downturn, and given that the filmmakers have chosen this as their subject matter, they don't exactly find comedic gold—it's a movie that rises principally on the charm of its leading man, and nobody talks their way into and then back out of trouble any better than Keaton. He is funny and quick on his feet, and displays a deftness that left him shortly after this—the gravitas of his Batman may be responsible, or perhaps, in an effort to demonstrate that he's a serious actor (e.g., My Life), he deliberately chose not to play to his comedic strengths. I appreciate him wanting to challenge himself as a performer, but as an audience member, I'd love to see Keaton cutting up a little more these days.

Hunt has the obligatory girlfriend (Mimi Rogers) and the necessary bunch of buddies (led by George Wendt and John Turturro), all of whom know that Hunt is a big talker—but can he walk the walk? (None of the others are given very much to do, though Keaton and Wendt do have a memorable fight scene in aisle three of the supermarket, scattering cheese puffs all about.) Hunt is named by his new bosses as employee liaison—he's supposed to spread the gospel of Assan among the auto workers, and report back to the director of the plant, Kazihiro (Gedde Watanabe). Kazihiro-san has more than a few of his own problems: he's been sent to a remedial management school, for bringing disgrace to the plant he managed. (He had the temerity to care about the workers, and not just the bottom line.) And in Hadleyville his family is being seduced by the ways of the West—his son can't stop playing G.I. Joe, his daughter likes to listen to Twisted Sister, and his wife has traded in traditional Japanese cuisine for menu items like Jimmy Dean sausage.

The portrayal of the Japanese isn't offensive, it just seems very generalized; and the movie certainly doesn't seem racist, but it does seem facile. It's the stuff of basic 1980s cartoons on the op-ed page: the Japanese are overworked, careerist obsessives; the Americans are full of beer and self-congratulation, and lacking in discipline and hard work. As you can predict long beforehand, each side learns a little something from the other—the guys on the line find a newfound pride in producing a quality automobile, and their Japanese bosses discover that, say, leaving work a few minutes early because your wife is in labor will not bring eternal shame on you or your employer.

The script gins up an artificial climax, allowing for its internationalist "feel good" conclusion, which is neither tidy nor hilarious nor touching, but it is at least workmanlike. More generally. the film is notable for a couple of things. For one, the director is Ron Howard, before he partnered up with Brian Grazer under their Imagine banner, and his work lacks the polish that emerged over the next years, on movies like Backdraft and Apollo 13, and reaching its well-honed apex with of course A Beautiful Mind. Also, given that the Japanese economy in the early years of this century may be in even more dire straits than the U.S. economy, it seems almost quaint to look back at a time when so many in our country were so deeply fearful of the Japanese financial powerhouse.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: You'd think that, since Paramount labels this DVD as part of their "Widescreen Collection" and took the trouble to provide an anamorphic transfer, that the film would be presented in its original aspect ratio, but you'd be wrong. The original 2.35:1 image has been cropped down to something like 1.85:1, but given that it's not an especially well photographed film to begin with, this isn't as egregious as it might have been. It means generally that with some frequency the image is oddly off center and unbalanced, and in wider shots a character or two may be lopped off the side of the frame. This Solomonic compromise between a full-screen, pan & scan version and a wider transfer that preserves the original aspect ratio cannot make anyone especially happy.

There's a limited amount of interference with the image from debris and scratches, but the color palette is a little askew, with the fleshtones particularly; the actors tend to look a little chalky.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track doesn't bring a whole lot to the party, but for the occasional sound of a rivet being turned from one of the rear channels. Both this and the stereo track are generally free of buzz, crackle and hiss.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are only chapter stops and optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

Michael Keaton's welcome presence goes a long way, and obviously this isn't a meditation on international economics from the pages of the Wall Street Journal. It is sort of a sloppy movie, though, and only occasionally is it flat-out funny; and the lack of extras on this disc doesn't really help the cause, either.

Jon Danziger 2002-07-23