Review: White on Rice

Writer-director Dave Boyle’s deadly comedy peaks early with a broad lampoon of samurai movies.

White on Rice
Photo: Variance Films

If nothing else, White on Rice proves that Napoleon Dynamite‘s gawk-at-the-spaz routine doesn’t sound any more endearing in garbled Engrish. Writer-director Dave Boyle’s deadly comedy peaks early with a broad lampoon of samurai movies (complete with decapitated warriors and an audio cameo by Bruce Campbell) and then trudges through a marsh of quirky stereotypes scarcely given new flavor by its Japanese-American background. A 40-year-old manchild, Jimmy (Hiroshi Watanabe) leaves Tokyo after his divorce and moves in with his sister Aiko (Nae) in L.A., where he gets plenty of chances to display his stillborn social skills in a string of fumbled blind dates. While his brother-in-law Tak (Mio Takada) seethes, Jimmy pursues a supposedly hilarious obsession with dinosaurs, attends college classes without bothering to register first, and scrambles to woo his dream girl, Ramona (Lynn Chen). Potential intercultural insights are swiftly abandoned as the film settles for an oddball protagonist who blurts out things like “junk in the trunk” in a phonetic-sounding chirp and a late-in-the-game comic stabbing that becomes not just a prime example of lazy screenwriting but also an excuse to have a white doctor cluelessly jabber about sepukku. The most intriguing element sits on the periphery of the main plot: Jimmy’s nephew and roommate Bob (Justin Kwong), a prematurely solemn-faced 10-year-old quietly inhabiting his own solemn, piano-playing orbit apart from the wacky adults around him. The character’s uneasy presence almost posits White on Rice as an Indiewood retelling of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata, though that would make the movie sound infinitely more interesting than the asphyxiating ethnic sitcom it is.

Score: 
 Cast: Hiroshi Watanabe, Nae, Mio Takada, Lynn Chen, James Kyson Lee, Justin Kwong, Pepe Serna, Joy Osmanki, Cathy Shim  Director: Dave Boyle  Screenwriter: Dave Boyle  Distributor: Variance Films  Running Time: 85 min  Rating: R  Year: 2009  Buy: Video

Fernando F. Croce

Fernando F. Croce is a San Francisco-based film writer whose work has been published in Film Comment, Reverse Shot, MUBI, and Fandor. He runs the website CinePassion.

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