Sweet Alibis: Berlin Review

A standard action comedy that’s an diverting mixed bag at best.

Lien Yi-chi’s second feature marks a rare foray into genre entertainment from Taiwan.

A chocolate eating dog, a protective police chief, a movie star’s felonious twin brother and Taiwan’s answer to Walter White are just a few of the moving parts bouncing around in Sweet Alibis, a rare piece of unapologetic genre entertainment from Taiwan, better known for angsty teens, sentimental melodrama and moody art house fare. The second feature by burgeoning populist Lien Yi-chi (the middling 2011 thriller Make Up) is a high-energy romp that doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not, and hits its targets as often as it misses by a mile.

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The film’s gregarious comic book tone is set right from the opening credits (which play something like an ’80s action television series), which is also when the Shaft-lite soundtrack starts. A vaguely stereotyped transgender character and a movie theater shooting scene could prove problematic in some markets, but Sweet Alibis could easily find a life in Asia where the humor will likely land better. And though it’s too commercial for most festivals Asian interest programs may want to take a look.

The needlessly convoluted plot begins with new partners Chih-yi (Alex Su) and Yi-ping (Ariel Lin) working on a poodle homicide (really, it’s part of a bigger case). Chih-yi is a bad, as in not good at his job, cop more interested in dating services than policing, and is known for never putting himself in harm’s way. Yi-ping is the ultra-keen chief’s daughter, who can’t wait to draw her gun and is desperate to prove her policing chops outside the shadow of her dad. Their boss Long partners Chih-yi with Yi-ping to keep her safe, but to absolutely no one’s surprise, the duo stumble deeper into a major drug case involving meth dealer Snack (Matt Wu), Chih-yi’s love struck nephew Johnny, a group of gay gangsters (one of whom transition from male to female to preserve the gang’s criminal “face”) the aforementioned poodle and a remarkable cancer recovery. Cue comic high jinks.

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Sweet Alibisis the kind of throwaway amusement that’s rare for Taiwan, and though the toilet humor abounds (the chief has an intestinal problem, which is a recurring, er, joke) it does have its share of genuinely witty moments. Yi-ping’s gun fixation earns a few chuckles and when Snack’s actor brother Matt Wu (Wu cheekily playing himself) gets roped into a sting operation, his distress at crowds being unable to see his perp walk “performance” proves to be a highlight. Sweet Alibis is juvenile in flashes, grossly sentimental in others, boasts one moment that is simply bizarre (a musical interlude that doesn’t work as spoof, satire or tragedy) and its lead actors are only partially engaging. It takes far too long for Su to give Chih-yi a personality trait aside from idiot (granted a script flaw) and Lin is saddled with the “feisty but vulnerable girl” role in Yi-ping. It’s the supporting cast that give the mostly unnamed secondary characters the zing that move the film from the level of forgettable nonsense to enjoyably forgettable nonsense.

Producer: Jackie Wang

Director: Lien Yi-chi

Cast: Alec Su, Ariel Lin, Matt Wu, Lei Hong, Lang Tzu-yun

Screenwriter: Yu Shang-min, Chen Jia-jhen, Lien Yi-chi

Executive producer: Lin Tien-kuei, Yin Hsiao-jung, Alex Wong, Charles Hu

Director of photography: Randy Che

Production designer: YC Kuo

Music: Yang Wan-chien

Costume designer: Emma Lin

Editor: Wenders Li, Ian Lin

No rating, 113 minutes