When East meets West, the laughs shift into high gear!
Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice, Batman) is Hunt Stevenson, an autoworker who convinces a Japanese car company to import its operations to an all-American small town (complete with an assortment of wacky factory workers). The team of skilled but somewhat lazy laborers (including George Wendt and John Turturro) are all thrilled to be back on the assembly line—so thrilled, in fact, that they ignore putting together a union! With Hunt in charge of enforcing the new Eastern work philosophies—including no paid overtime and excessive exercising—the Japanese owners are hoping to up their productivity and sales! Unfortunately, the American workers are used to Twinkies and long lunch breaks, which doesn't sit well with the Asian upper management. After some butting of heads, Hunt's boss (Gedde Watanabe, Sixteen Candles, Vamp) cuts a deal with him: if the American workers can match the Japanese's best month of production (15,000 automobiles), he'll raise their salaries. As the Americans and Japanese workers continue their culture clash, the pressure skyrockets for both Hunt and his boss to produce, produce, produce!
You've got to hand it to Ron Howard—he's come a long way since the '80s. If one were to look at this directing credits up until 1986 (Night Shift, Cocoon, Splash), you'd have thought the guy would forever be trapped in the land of sappy, goofy comedies. As it turns out Howard won an Oscar for Best Director on his Best Picture-winning film, 2001's A Beautiful Mind. But let's go back to a time when Michael Keaton was a star who could carry a movie and comedies didn't dwell on bodily functions to get a laugh. Gung Ho originated from a screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Mr. Saturday Night, City Slickers), which displays their usual flair for inoffensive one-liners and warm hearted belly laughs. Michael Keaton is his usual charming self as the affable but shifty Hunt, while Gedde Watanabe complements Keaton's laid back style with tight-lipped frustration. Keaton and Watanabe's chemistry together is fun, though it's never enough to rise above the only mediocre script and long lulls that plague the film. A very young John Turturro and portly George Wendt fall in line as the supporting cast, though each of their respective characters are paper thin and never given much to do (much like Mimi Rogers as Hunt's long suffering girlfriend). Howard is able to find laughs between the different work styles of the Asians and Americans, though too often the Japanese are reduced to typical stereotypes—i.e., throwing screaming fits at a moment's notice and having little to no sense of humor. I laughed in a few spots, which was really all I was asking for from a movie that might make a good double feature with Michael Moore's 1989 documentary Roger & Me. Gung Ho is an enjoyable enough '80s movie, though much like the Thompson Twins and high hair, it hasn't aged very gracefully.
Gung Ho is presented in a fine 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Aside of a small amount of edge enhancement and some soft color patterns, overall this is a decent transfer of the film. The soundtrack is presented in a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track in English (accompanied by a Dolby 2.0 Surround track in English and a Dolby Stereo track in French). While there are a few directional sounds to be heard on the 5.1 track (most notably when rock music is playing over a scene), the bulk of the track is focused in the front and center speakers. Also included on the disc are English subtitles. Fans hoping for a commentary track or even a single theatrical trailer will be steamed as white rice to find not one extra feature anywhere on this disc! Banzai!
Fun Fact: Gung Ho was apparently a big enough hit at the box office to warrant a short-lived TV series starring Scott Bakula and returning Gung Ho stars Gedde Watanabe and Clint Howard (brother of Ron).
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