L: Change the World (2008)

Genres - Fantasy, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Fantasy Adventure  |   Release Date - Apr 29, 2009 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 129 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

What makes a good comic-book movie villain? With his brilliantly devious mind, his ruthlessness, and his overweening ego, Light Yagama, from the first two Death Note films, certainly made the grade. Faced with centering a new film, L: Change the World, around the compelling character of L (Kenichi Matsuyama), the pale, candy-gobbling hunchbacked crime-fighting boy genius of those movies, the filmmakers' most obvious failure is that no one steps into that void left by Light. Absent the compelling Death Note mythology, the film focuses on L's efforts to stop a group of double-crossing mad scientists from unleashing a deadly supervirus and effectively wiping out the human race. L is also saddled with caring for two precocious children whose lives have been upended by the sinister plot. The combination of gruesomely disfiguring disease (shown frequently and in graphic detail) and the goofy antics of L's eccentric babysitting adventure doesn't work. Kenichi Matsuyama's performance is still amusing, but the screenwriters focus more on his quirks than his genius, making him more of a comic figure, which compromises the tonal balance of the Death Note films further. In taking over directing duties from Shusuke Kaneko, Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water) fails to find the tone of comic dread that Kaneko made seem so effortless. Admittedly, the Death Note films seemed a bit choppy, as Kaneko attempted to cram a wealth of detail from the original material into two features. The films seemed a bit like trailers for themselves, but they were never less than highly entertaining. By contrast, L merely seems rushed and sloppy. It seems disconcertingly like a quick cash-in, and as such it's unworthy of its unique lead character. The film had its North American premiere at Subway Cinema's 2008 New York Asian Film Festival.