There's an arrogant cynicism to "Bootleg Film" that might have been provocative if delivered through a stronger story, but writer-helmer Masahiro Kobayashi's second feature comes off as an empty exercise in nihilism. The Japanese director is clearly heavily indebted to Jarmusch, Tarantino and the Coen brothers, but unfortunately has borrowed the worst elements from these U.S. auteurs.

There’s an arrogant cynicism to “Bootleg Film” that might have been provocative if delivered through a stronger story, but writer-helmer Masahiro Kobayashi’s second feature comes off as an empty exercise in nihilism. The Japanese director is clearly heavily indebted to Jarmusch, Tarantino and the Coen brothers, but unfortunately has borrowed the worst elements from these U.S. auteurs. “Bootleg’s” brisk 74 minutes are chock-full of senseless violence, gratuitous verbal abuse, irritating film-school sleights of hand and obtuse discussions of film history. This is strictly a festival item, with most buyers and auds bound to be turned off by its slice of sub-“Reservoir Dogs” filmmaking, which seems curiously passe.

Two unlikely pals, small-time hood Tatsuo (Akira Emoto) and cop Seiji (Kippei Shiina), are driving down a bleak country road on the way to a funeral. The dead woman, Ayako (Tamaki), who committed suicide, was Seiji’s ex-wife and Tatsuo’s former lover, and they spend much of the film endlessly talking about their relationship with her. Tatsuo taunts Seiji by saying that he and Ayako were having an affair during most of her days married to Seiji, and that she loved the mobster more than her husband.

Along the way, they meet a zombie-like young couple, Yoji (Kazuki Kitamura) and Junko (Maika), whose discovery of a secret the men share makes them targets of their violence. Kobayashi throws in a number of violent scenes that seem particularly pointless; Tatsuo keeps bringing up his favorite films, with numerous references to Tarantino and “Reservoir Dogs.”

Little happens in the pic aside from Tatsuo and Seiji’s constant, grating bickering and the later violent episodes. Kobayashi appears to be more fascinated with arty touches than anything resembling a narrative; the nifty camerawork and editing serve only to distract the viewer. There are numerous jump cuts, scenes with dialogue that doesn’t match the images, and the sort of static shots Jim Jarmusch made famous in “Stranger Than Paradise.”

Most crucial problems here are that the script makes it nearly impossible to care about the two main characters and reveals little about Ayako, who should be central to the tale. There is sparse use of music, most of which has a retro jazzy groove to it.

Bootleg Film

Japanese - B&W

Production

A Monkey Town Prods. production. (International sales: Mercure Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Masahiro Kobayashi. Directed, written by Masahiro Kobayashi.

With

Tatsuo - Akira Emoto Seiji - Kippei Shiina Junko - Maika Reiko - Wakaba Nakano Akiko - Kazue Takani Ayako - Tamaki Yoji - Kazuki Kitamura
Camera (B&W), Akira Sakoh; editor, Naoki Kaneko; music, Wataru Takada; sound, Mitsuru Seya; assistant producer, Naoko Okamura; assistant director, Mitsuru Meike. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 13, 1999. Running time: 74 MIN.
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