“Yo-Yo Girl Cop” – A.J. Hakari

It’s not uncommon for me to expect a certain something from a movie based solely on its title. A little presumptuous, yes, but not altogether unreasonable. After all, would you expect a film called The Passion of the Christ to be a stoner comedy or Jackass: Number Two to be an indictment of Nazi Germany? Following this same line of logic, I looked forward to Yo-Yo Girl Cop to being a supremely silly action flick, brainless fun in the tradition of Charlie’s Angels and Bandidas. Instead, what I got was a surprisingly critical attack on the Japanese education system — and not even a good one, at that.

In La Femme Nikita fashion, Yo-Yo Girl Cop centers around a rebellious, troublemaking Japanese girl (Aya Matsuura) captured in New York and given an ultimatum. It seems that at a high school back home, a dangerous website has popped up, one that targets lonely kids, features instructions on how to make homemade bombs, and is counting down to some unknown event that will take place in a matter of days. All previous attempts to infiltrate the school and find out what’s going on have failed, and thus, our heroine is made an offer she can’t refuse. Faced with the prospect of seeing her estranged mother endure a lengthy jail sentence, the girl agrees to take on the mission, arming herself with one mean mother of a yo-yo and taking the name “Asamiya Saki” (a nod to the film’s previous manga, TV, and film incarnations) as she goes undercover to figure out what the site is counting down to before it happens.

From reading that summary, would you have ever thought that Yo-Yo Girl Cop would turn out to be a fairly solemn attack on how Japan educates its youth? The DVD cover seems to indicate otherwise, what with Matsuura’s character clad in a schoolgirl uniform, wielding her mighty yo-yo as explosions threaten to engulf her. But indeed, Yo-Yo Girl Cop is pretty hell-bent on actually saying something, although the effect left on the viewer is a lot like getting socks for Christmas; you appreciate the effort, but it’s not exactly what you really wanted. This goes without saying that the idea of an action flick wanting to be something more than just a nonstop festival of shootouts and random stuff blowing up is wholly bad, but Yo-Yo Girl Cop goes about doing so in a way that turns the flick into a steadily increasing bummer. The trouble is that while the film starts and ends the story with a hell of a bang, the middle section is rather stagnant, an uninvolving mystery combined with a mopey teen drama that stops every so often to hurl a criticism or two at an educational system that pressures students too much while ignoring those kids who need help the most.

But even such attacks are awkwardly-staged, as the apathy of the teachers is set at such a cartoonishly extreme level (to the point that they willingly hang out around would-be suicide bombers and still don’t care), the filmmakers are stretching the situation way too far, even for a pseudo-satire. One would think such a tale told by Kenta Fukasaku, who, along with his father, brought the notorious and savage Battle Royale to the big screen, would be a lot more effective, but Yo-Yo Girl Cop is as likely to inspire a wave of change as that crazy homeless guy down the street who sees Jesus in a bag of churros. Sure, there are a few times when Fukasaku really embraces the pulpy, goofball nature of the story. A climactic fight between Saki and a popular school rival is played out in all of its leather-clad, Matrixesque glory, razor-blade yo-yos and all. Matsuura’s performance is pretty much all attitude and sex appeal, and whenever the bland story isn’t dragging her down, she brings a healthy dose of energy and fun to her part. Japanese cinema veteran Riki Takeuchi also has a ball with his role as Saki’s trainer, a hilarious combination of every burnt-out cop cliche and a hairdo so solid you could build condos on it.

But such moments of levity relieving a downer of a story are few and far between in Yo-Yo Girl Cop. It’s one thing for a movie to be no fun at all, but a movie that can display such insanity only to pull back all too often into a turgid rut might be even worse off.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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