[Screen It]

(2000) (Takehiro Murata, Hiroshi Abe) (PG)

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Sci-fi/Action/Adventure: As researchers and government officials square off about how to deal with Godzilla, a 170 foot tall, radioactive, fire-breathing behemoth, they must also contend with a monstrous alien life force seemingly intent on wrecking havoc on both their city and Godzilla.
Godzilla is a 170-foot tall, radioactive, fire-breathing monster who's once again arisen from the seas off Japan, apparently intent on destroying all sources of energy across the land. Yuji Shinoda (TAKEHIRO MURATA) is a scientist who, along with his young and precocious daughter, Io (MAYU SUZUKI), and tag along local photographer Yuki Ichinose (NAOMI NISHIDA), is intent on studying the beast.

Unfortunately for him, Mitsuo Katagiri (HIROSHI ABE), the head of the Crisis Control Agency, wants to destroy Godzilla due to the path of death and destruction the monster weaves whenever he comes ashore. Katagiri's attention is divided, however, between Godzilla and what appears to be a large and ancient meteorite that's been discovered on the sea floor.

Along with his associate, Shiro Miyasaka (SHIRO SANO), Katagiri wants to know about the large rock, particularly when it begins flying around the city, scanning both the molecular structure of every creature it meets - including Godzilla - as well as the contents of a large city's computers.

Things become more complicated when the flying rock seemingly joins the Japanese military's attack on Godzilla and then spawns a similarly monstrous-sized creature. From that point on, it's a battle of the monster heavyweights as Godzilla and the alien creature go toe-to-toe and end up destroying much of the city during their epic battle.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Just as there are outcries about stopping the federally funded rebuilding of disaster prone areas where hurricanes and earthquakes commonly strike, it's surprising that the same doesn't hold true in the cinematic world regarding damage inflicted by the king of all monsters, Godzilla. Of course, the big fire-breathing lizard has only struck once of recent in the U.S. - when the Big Apple got a bite taken out of it in Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's lavish, but disappointing 1998 remake - and thus that could be considered a lone, fluke occurrence.

Similarly, FEMA has no jurisdiction in Japan where most of the rest of the attacks have taken place. Yet, one would think that the equivalent agency there would get tired of repairing Tokyo and other cities, eventually banning everyone from living in any metropolitan area. After all, the Big Guy has laid waste to the country now twenty-three times over the past nearly half a century since he first arrived on the scene in 1954's "Gojira" (later re-edited with Raymond Burr and re-christened "Godzilla" for American audiences).

Now Godzilla is back in the appropriately, but unimaginatively titled "Godzilla 2000." Jettisoning Emmerich and Devlin's big-budget, special effects-laden look and glossy veneer, Toho Studios steps back in time by creating the titular character via the man in the big rubber suit effect, just as has been the case in all of the previous Japanese produced films.

That said, those looking for the typical Hollywood extravaganza had better put such expectations on check at the door. Conversely, those who've enjoyed the cheap looking effects, bad English dubbing, melodramatic overacting and unintentional laughs of the original films will certainly get a kick out of this one.

In fact, one has to wonder whether screenwriters Wataru Mimura ("Orachi the Eight-Headed Dragon") and Hiroshi Kaskiwabara ("Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla") and director Takao Okawara ("Abduction," "Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth") were intentionally in on the joke in a sly way, feeding into the fan base's love of such over-the-top camp. One can only hope so, as watching the film without some degree of admiration for such intentional or unintentional bad filmmaking would easily be an uncomfortable one hundred or so minutes of cinematic torture.

Indeed, a fair number of people got up and walked out of our screening once they seemed to realized what type of film had walked in on. However, from the moment a little girl in our audience let out a squeal during one of the film's "tense" moments to the ending that has one of the best "howler" lines in the history of movies, the remaining audience members clearly got into the film's cheesy and campy moments.

With the badly out of sync English dubbing being the first sign that this isn't some highbrow foreign flick (otherwise there'd be subtitles), it isn't difficult to discern that the rather incoherent and poorly conceived plot really isn't a big deal and/or the reason to see these sorts of films.

Instead, it's the obviously fake looking effects (be they of the obvious guy in the rubber suit walking through a miniaturized city set or some unrealistic looking computer generated effects), bad acting and ridiculously absurd dialogue that had those at our screening hooting and hollering in glee whenever any such moments occurred.

In fact, this is one of those films best watched with an accepting and enthusiastic audience - much like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and other midnight cult films - as the crowd reaction is what makes the experience enjoyable. Without it, which will be the case with most viewers' contact with the film once it quickly makes its way to video, the effect is gone and both the resultant camp and entertainment level severely diminished.

If there's a major drawback to the film -- disregarding the bevy of other artistic concerns - it's that there isn't enough camp and certainly not enough Godzilla. While the filmmakers might have been applying the old "absence makes the heart grow fonder" approach of filmmaking, the moments where Godzilla is missing in action are far too numerous and lengthy. They're also clearly less than involving and ultimately become rather boring and do so rather quickly.

The acting - and I use that term booth loosely and quite generously - certainly doesn't fill those absences, with Takehiro Murata ("Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth," "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah"), Shiro Sano ("Sharaku," "To Sleep So As To Dream") and Naomi Nishida ("My Secret Cache," "Haunted School 2 & 3") delivering flat, if occasionally hyper performances.

Only Hiroshi Abe ("Orachi the Eight-Headed Dragon," "Bullet Ruger PO8") as the villainous CCA official is fun to watch simply because he plays the character with so much overzealous earnestness that it wouldn't be surprising to see him - or a caricature thereof - appear in the next "Austin Powers" flick. Unfortunately, Tsutomu Kitagawa ("Battle Fever J.," "Rebirth of Mothra III"), who "appears" as Godzilla, isn't as much fun to watch. That's simply because the filmmakers opted to make the beast more menacing this time around, rather than have him doing the martial arts stances and other goofy behavior that occurred in some of the previous films and were so ridiculous that they came across as charming.

Despite those "serious" intentions and one decent early sequence where Godzilla chases the members of the Godzilla Prediction Network through a tunnel, the filmmakers certainly fail at getting the viewer involved in the story or characters. Most of that stems from the nonsensical plot that exists merely as a loose series of events whose sole purpose is to get the two heavyweights into a big slugfest at the end of the film.

Notwithstanding its many faults and the lingering question of whether any part of the film is meant to be taken seriously, it does come off as a campy, guilty pleasure for those who enjoy such productions. The formula has certainly been successful, with the character easily being one of the most popular and recurring ones in the history of the cinema. Then again, and to quote a character from the film, maybe that's just "because Godzilla is inside each one of us." If that doesn't induce a goofy grin on your face, you'd probably better skip this film that earns a 3.5 out of 10 rating, only for its over-the-top camp factor.

Reviewed August 14, 2000 / Posted August 18, 2000

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