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Gung Ho

Gung Ho (1986) is the sort of safe comedy that director Ron Howard built his career on — not fall-down-funny, but not unfunny either. It's the sort of film that only offends because the stereotypes it presents are so grossly overripe, certainly not because it challenges the audience in any way. Michael Keaton plays an auto executive who convinces a Japanese car company to bring its operation to his small American town, taking over a closed auto factory. The local workers (including actors George Wendt and John Turturro) are so thrilled to be back on the assembly line that they dismiss their union and don't bother to consider how their new owners do business. They soon find themselves working for a crew of cartoonishly type-A managers, who embody all Westerners' most extreme conceptions of Japanese salarymen: They expect the Americans to work without pay for overtime, offer them no sick leave, and constantly scream at them. Gedde Watanabe plays Keaton's counterpart at the Japanese company, a man of quiet intelligence and humor who chafes at the restrictions placed on him by his culture. He and Keaton conspire to make the plant successful, despite management and the workers — together, the two actors have amazing chemistry, and their work is the only thing that makes Gung Ho any good at all. Funny as much of the script (by TV veterans and regular Howard partners Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) manages to be, the film's "culture clash" premise is predicated on our acceptance of both Americans and Japanese workers as one-dimensional stereotypes, either beer-drinking cretins or humorless workaholics. Howard has done better work, as has Keaton — and Watanabe remains an under-appreciated treasure of an actor who should be seen more often. Paramount's DVD release offers a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and English subtitles. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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