The Original Gangsta Lizard is back, large and in charge, in the exuberantly retrograde "Godzilla 2000," a classically low-tech monster mash from Japan's Toho Pictures. The latest Zilla thrilla gets back to basics by allowing yet another guy in a rubbery gray dinosaur suit to have a hunka-hunka burnin' fun in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Original Gangsta Lizard is back, large and in charge, in the exuberantly retrograde “Godzilla 2000,” a classically low-tech monster mash from Japan’s Toho Pictures. In sharp contrast to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 made-in-USA “Godzilla,” which relied on ultra-expensive but fatally charmless CGI f/x, the latest Zilla thrilla gets back to basics by allowing yet another guy in a rubbery gray dinosaur suit to have a hunka-hunka burnin’ fun in the Land of the Rising Sun. TriStar’s release of English-dubbed edition may appeal to Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers with fond memories of Toho-produced creature features from the ’60s and ’70s, but it’s difficult to predict whether younger ticket buyers — even those who were raised on the cheesy spectacle of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” — will appreciate pic as either high-camp hoot or guilty-pleasure nostalgia. The first Toho production to receive a wide North American theatrical release in 15 years, “Godzilla 2000″ likely won’t find its largest aud until it is downsized for VHS and DVD.More or less picking up where “Godzilla vs. Destroyah” (1995) left off, “Godzilla 2000″ reintroduces Big G in a nifty nighttime sequence on a fog-shrouded Japanese seacoast. Shinoda (Takehiro Murata), a volunteer tracker for the Godzilla Prediction Network, leads Yuki (Naomi Nishida), an ambitious newspaper reporter, to a spot where the journalist can snap some exclusive photos of the monster’s return tour. Trouble is, Yuki gets a little too close while shooting her close-ups and is very nearly stomped on by Old Smokey. Shinoda, his young daughter (Mayu Suzuki) and other GPN regulars keep tabs on Big G for the sake of scientific research. (The volunteers also issue periodic Godzilla alerts, much like TV weathercasters announce ozone warnings or thunderstorm forecasts.) But another group, the quasi-official Crisis Control Intelligence agency, seeks only to destroy the Gangsta Lizard. CCI chief Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe), Shinoda’s not-so-friendly rival, has carte blanche to order a full-scale military assault when la liz attempts to use a nuclear power plant as a fast-food restaurant. As usual, however, the heavy artillery and high-tech weaponry can’t stop it. (After nearly a half-century century of Zilla invasions, you’d think the Japanese military would know better than to waste its firepower.) It takes a more otherworldly adversary to halt — temporarily, at least — Godzilla’s latest rampage. Katagiri’s CCI scientists inadvertently make a bad situation much worse when they locate a 6,000-year-old UFO off the Japanese coast. The long-dormant spacecraft — which looks like a really, really big Apple Power Book — is raised to the surface while Katagiri’s minions try to unlock its mysteries. Unfortunately, the UFO “reawakens.” Even more unfortunately, it takes a few laser blasts at Godzilla, then interfaces with every computer in Japan. Godzilla briefly disappears after being zapped by the extraterrestrial thingamabob. (Has he checked into a hotel under an assumed name? Or is he lying low in a deserted warehouse? Pic remains coyly vague about his precise whereabouts.) But just when it looks like the UFO might hack into every hard drive known to man, Big G makes another of his stunning comebacks. The UFO morphs into a guy in a rubber monster suit — what else would you expect in a Godzilla movie? — and tries to consume Old Smokey. Not surprisingly, Big G gets medieval on the chump. As any die-hard G-fan can tell you, Godzilla perished at the end of “Godzilla vs. Destroyah” — he finally O.D.’d on radiation percolating in his gut — but not before passing on the torch to the leaner and meaner Godzilla Jr. It is perhaps naive, if not downright foolish, to assume “Godzilla 2000″ is a logical progression from its immediate predecessor. (After all, this wouldn’t be the first Zilla thriller that blithely ignored every other movie that came before it.) But special effects supervisor Kenji Suzuki obviously wanted to give Big G an image makeover — bigger and spikier dorsal fins, a more iguanalike head, an overall increase in bad-ass attitude — so maybe this really is Zilla II. And even if it isn’t, the enhancements — including the greater precision of Big G’s fire-breathing — are effective. Indeed, the special effects throughout “Godzilla 2000″ are markedly superior to the transparent fakery of Zilla thrillers from the ’60s and ’70s. (Suzuki even uses an occasional flash of — gasp! — CGI trickery.) Fortunately, things never get too new and improved: Godzilla is still a guy in a gray dinosaur suit, and the buildings that he razes are still miniature models. Stuntman Tsutomu Kitagawa — who also played King Ghidorah in 1998′s “Rebirth of Mothra III” — does the honors here as Big G. Emmerich’s “Godzilla” gave us a Big G that resembled a mutant offspring of the mother beast in “Alien” and a T. rex from “Jurassic Park.” It may have been flashy, but it wasn’t the Godzilla that millions have known and loved for more than four decades. Worse, it didn’t even like to breathe fire. “Godzilla 2000″ is the Real Thing to Emmerich’s New Coke. Back in Japan, “Godzilla 2000″ has been such a hit that Toho is preparing yet another sequel — “Godzilla vs. Megagiras” — for end-of-the-year domestic release. Working from a script by Zilla vets Wataru Mimura (“Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II”) and Hiroshi Kashiwabara (“Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla”), director Takao Okawara (“Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth”) is unable to keep the pace from flagging in scenes that call for such niceties as exposition and character development. But whenever Godzilla is onscreen — especially during the climactic grudge match, when Big G opens up a can of whup-ass on the unfriendly extraterrestrial — Okawara sustains a thrilling mood of Saturday matinee monster mayhem. The North American edition of “Godzilla 2000″ has been dubbed into English — badly, but on purpose — to make the pic more accessible to the megaplex masses, and to underscore the campiness of the enterprise. The actors look sincere, but what comes out of their mouths reeks of wink-wink, nudge-nudge self-parody. The joke wears thin, but some scraps of dialogue are laugh-out-loud hilarious. A Japanese military officer, echoing George C. Scott’s Gen. Jack D. Ripper of “Dr. Strangelove,” warns of collateral damage in the war on Godzilla. (“I’m not saying we won’t get our hair mussed…”) Later, the sleazy Katagiri evidences a surprising amount of sub-zero sang-froid when he’s finally face to face with Big G. Blithely lighting a cigarette, he notes, “I’ve never been so close to Godzilla before…” And at the very end, Yuki wonders aloud why, even after mankind has tried to destroy him so many times, Godzilla repeatedly returns to choke-slam any invader who threatens our planet. Shinoda knows the answer: “Maybe because Godzilla is inside each one of us.” Well, yes, maybe so.