Sabu’s second film showcasing J-Pop boyband V6, “Hold Up Down” finds the maverick actor-turned-helmer in much more inventive form than in the over-extended “Hard Luck Hero” (2003). Crime comedy, with one mishap leading to another with ironic inevitability and the whole cast in perpetual motion, is the first Sabu movie in a while that doesn’t run out of steam by the third reel. Director’s fans will groove on this one, though Western distribution beyond tube outlets looks problematical.
Opening reel, set on Christmas Eve, is among the funniest in the writer-director’s career. Two young punks dressed as Father Christmases rob a bank, but, as they exit with the swag, they see their car being towed away, so dive into the subway. Deciding to stash the goods, they find they don’t have any small change for a luggage locker, so ask a street musician (Junichi Okada) to change one of the banknotes.
As the busker also gives chase, the duo leaps on a subway train. But they accidentally drop the locker key on the platform, where it’s retrieved by the busker. Latter eventually realizes what’s up, but before he can get to the locker, he’s knocked down by a police car and swallows the key.
That’s just the start of a whole string of events that broadens out to include the two maverick cops, a female colleague who joins them, and a homeless suicidee (Go Morita) who thinks the busker is Jesus Christ. (Don’t even ask.) Less frenetic third act is set at a hot springs hotel (with a nod to “The Shining”) where the suicidee goes to thaw out the busker’s frozen corpse in order to retrieve the locker key.
Closely hewing to Sabu’s favorite format of a road movie-cum-chase pic, but stripped of much of the dialogue that is featured in his non-V6 movies, “Hold Up Down” is the closest the helmer has come to a Keystone cop comedy, though at a more sophisticated level. Each physical gag sparks another, like balls ricocheting round a pool table.
Entertainment quotient comes not from the physical gags themselves but from the cleverness with which Sabu manipulates his characters and the cool, classical direction. However, beyond the Swiss-clock plotting, there’s no emotional or character depth to the movie, setting it apart from more substantial pics like “Monday” or “Postman Blues.”
Performances are all in the service of the material, and never go much further than burlesque. Tech package is typically smart.