'Kite': Fantasia Review

Kite Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Fantasia Festival

Kite Still - H 2014

Samuel L. Jackson slums in an anonymous sci-fi actioner

Yasuomi Umetsu's anime gets lifeless live-action treatment

A live-action anime adaptation whose most lively element is costume design, Ralph Ziman's Kite repackages an assortment of genre tropes into an instantly forgettable Luc Besson-aping slog that would be unneeded even if Besson hadn't just returned to big action flicks himself. The surprising presence of Samuel L. Jackson in a secondary role won't be enough to keep it alive in theatrical release, but will attract some attention on video.

India Eisley stars as Sawa, your average sexy-girl-assassin type who's tearing through a post-financial-crash dystopia trying to avenge the murder of her parents. Her belief that a human trafficking kingpin ordered the hit means plenty of opportunities to dress up like a prostitute, weaseling into compromising situations in order to execute decadent flesh merchants; with the exception of an artificial phallus that, let's say, doesn't shoot blanks, there's nothing new here.

Sawa numbs the traumas of her past and present with a narcotic grudgingly supplied to her by Jackson, a police detective who was once her dad's partner. (The film's smoke-machine-thickened visuals seem to be woozy from the same drug.) Jackson's also on hand to "investigate" the scenes of Sawa's crimes, hiding clues to the identity of the killer from his hapless colleagues; off the clock, he's actually steering her toward new baddies to kill. The only hint of a world beyond doped-up vengeance comes via a stranger from a past Sawa doesn't remember (Callan McAuliffe), who clearly knows secrets she isn't ready to deal with yet.

Eisley's sole expression — grimly bee-stung — matches the expressive range of this thudding film, which even Jackson can't enliven until his final moments onscreen. (The actor does, at least, look great in the futuristic trench coats designed by Ruy Filipe.) Its source material was ripe for remake over a decade ago, when Quentin Tarantino drew inspiration from it for Kill Bill. But bloodthirsty young women are no longer novel enough that this watered-down revenger can expect us to pay attention without bringing something new to the table.

Production companies: Videovision Entertainment, Distant Horizon, Detalle Films
Cast: India Eisley, Samuel L. Jackson, Callan McAuliffe, Carl Beukes, Terence Bridgett, Deon Lotz, Zane Meas, Lionel Newton, Louw Venter
Director: Ralph Ziman
Screenwriter: Brian Cox
Producers: Moises Cosio, Brian Cox, Gerardo Gatica, Alberto Muffelmann, Anant Singh
Executive producers: Basil Ford, Robert Naidoo, Sudhir Pragjee, Katinka Schuman, Sanjeev Singh
Director of photography: Lance Gewer
Production designer: Willie Botha
Costume designer: Ruy Filipe
Editor: Megan Gill
Music: Paul Hepker
Rated R, 89 minutes