Cast Me If You Can -- Film Review

A comic trifle about mistaken identity induces more lethargy than laughs.

MILL VALLEY -- Eliciting a couple of chuckles and sending the cuteness meter sky high, "Cast Me If You Can," a broad, romantic comedy confection whose catchy title is the wittiest thing about it, takes shots at show business and the humiliations of the acting profession that are neither sharply observed nor particularly clever.

Japanese writer/director Atsushi Ogata, a maker of award-winning shorts helming his first feature, doesn't yet have a handle on pacing a full-length film, let alone one where comic timing is key.

The premise, concerning a frustrated actor, relegated to supporting role purgatory in his stalled career and repeatedly mistaken for other people in real life -- the latter leads to goofy misunderstandings which land him in jail or in the tabloids -- looks more like a by-the-numbers TV sitcom than a movie. While audiences may warm to this slight, good-natured film in Ogata's native Japan, where it opens in late October.

Eclipsed by the celebrity of his playwright-father (a wily old fox played by Masahiko Tsugawa), the hapless Hiroshi (Toru Masuoka), who's stuck playing a cop in a ludicrous police procedural, begins living the dream when he lands a leading role in a Woody Allen remake. However, Hiroshi's impulse to help others and his uncanny knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time triggers a series of unfortunate events that derail his climb to stardom. Not faring much better in love, he falls for Aya (Hiromi Nagasaku, whose mugging grows irritating), a perky thespian angling for the next job opportunity.

Inspired by Woody Allen's chameleon in Zelig and, to some extent, Charlie Chaplin but, with no one of Chaplin's -- or Allen's -- consummate skill in sight, the film swings from mawkish pathos to poorly executed physical gags and obvious jokes.

Masuoka, with his hang dog face and lumbering body, is likable enough but he simply doesn't have the comic chops to pull off what's required nor do the other actors, with the exception of Tsugawa, who steals every scene he's in and walks away with the movie.

Ogata and editor Masahiro Onaga are strangely reluctant to cut away at the end of some scenes, lingering on a last shot to the point where audiences may just nod off.

Jessica de Rooij's wistful original score sounds like it could have been piped in from a shopping mall. Tech credits overall are competent but undistinguished.

Venue: Mill Valley Film Festival
Production: Dream On Productions in association with Cineric, Inc.
Cast: Toru Masuoka, Hiromi Nagasaku, Masahiko Tsugawa, Keiko Matsuzaka
Director: Atsushi Ogata, Akane Shiratori
Screenwriters: Atsushi Ogata
Executive producer: Balazs Nyari
Producer: Atsushi Ogata, Eric Nyari, Eriko Miyagawa
Director of photography: Yuichi Nagata
Music: Jessica de Rooij
Costume designer: Ayako Kuroha
Editor: Masahiro Onaga
Unrated, 97 minutes