A film in the key of average

Key of Life, screening at Fantasia, revels in how perfectly average it is.

Masato Sakai in Key of Life

Foreign cinema (especially on the Fantasia roster) is so often comprised of exciting, envelope-pushing and jubilatory films that we tend to forget that the rest of the world is just as capable of creating slick, audience-pleasing product as Hollywood is. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Key of Life in the same way that there’s nothing wrong with a movie like Bandits (the forgettable/forgotten Bruce Willis–Billy Bob Thornton two-hander that this inexplicably reminded me of).

It’s a film that revels in its anonymity and well-oiled machinery, so clearly a perfect specimen of a movie begging to be remade that it cropped its own difficult bits out in advance. It’s fine for what it is, certainly — but who remembers Bandits?

A penniless, suicidal actor named Sakurai (Masato Sakai) happens upon the chance of a lifetime when a man is knocked unconscious in a public bath; in an attempt at upward mobility, he switches locker keys with what is revealed to be a slick, well-to-do hitman  — more than this incompetent slacker can deal with.

As the actor squanders away the hitman’s carefully collected fortune and painstaking avoids the mobsters that want him to do more work, the amnesia-stricken Kondo (Teruyuki Sagawa, of Tokyo Sonata) attempts to adapt to what he is told was his life with the help of an obsessive-compulsive woman (Ryōko Hirosu) desperate to find a husband.

It’s all a bit too neat and pat, coming across like Alexander Payne putting on his best game face and powering his way through a studio-mandated project. The actors are fine and the film looks good, but it takes forever to build any momentum (at 130 minutes, the premise is stretched fairly thin), and its sense of humor is what I’d generously call “affable.” What it lacks in soul, it attempts to make up for with polite competence, but it never quite gels into anything more than middling dramedy.

When I was a film-hungry teenager, the local video store had a three-for-two deal on rentals; I would always pick something respectable but disposable as the third film, knowing full well that I may never get around to watching it. Key of Life fits that description to a T: It commits the cardinal sin of playing it safe and, subsequently, of being just okay. 

Key of Life screens at the J.A. de Sève Theatre (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 20, 5 p.m., $9

Leave a Reply