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Sometimes, movie franchises defy capitalism and common sense and actually work - it's arguable, of course, but Back to the Future, for instance, started from a great premise and produced two subsequent sequels that were at least as entertaining if not as good as the original. It's pretty obvious from the outset, however, that L: Change The World is going to be a terribly embarrassing footnote to the Death Note series (which proved itself to be a surprisingly effective adaptation of a wildly popular, insanely intelligent Japanese manga). Sure, it sounded promising on paper: take the breakout character from the series, the insanely cool, bizarrely quirky L, and give him his own film. Let him match his legendary crime-solving wit with criminals bent on thwarting the current world order, even as he labours under a death sentence he imposed on himself in a bid to outplay his last target, the criminally insane genius Light. WHY NOT.
Well, the entire film sets out to prove why not. I'll try to summarise the plot, although what there is of it is laughable and just a mess. It turns out that L (Kenichi Matsuyama), ticking clock of DOOM right over his head, is not the only crime-solving genius out there. Good ol' mentor Watari (Shunji Fujimura) actually has a vast network of alphabetised agents all saving the world - theoretically. When a biological weapon in the form of a virus is tested on a remote Southeast Asian village, one of Watari's agents sends a young boy to L's side... even as doctors Koichi Matsudo (Sei Hiraizumi) and Kujo (Youki Kudoh) work together to find the vaccine to this lethal virus. But everything is not as it seems: soon, L, saddled with the young boy and Koichi's daughter, must set out on one last journey to save the world from a biological compound that can kill in seconds...
Okay, so I clearly gave up on summarising the plot. There's nothing that can really make it sound good, and the plotholes only gape ever further as the movie progresses. Character development is next to nil, as every character other than L is a stereotype (evil cackling villains with one sole glassy eye) or just plain bizarre (the children in L's charge). Even L, the most fascinating character in the Death Note series, comes off flat here: there is still comedy and some fun to be had when L trots out his quirky ways of eating or taking care of other human beings (he seems a bit of a misanthrope but he's a smart sweetheart, really), and Matsuyama, so effortlessly cool in the original films, does his best with a poorly underwritten, badly developed role. That he still manages to make you care for L even when the character mysteriously becomes a nursemaid and an action star, displaying next to none of the brains for which he is renowned, is a testament to his star power.
In other words, you'll be disappointed - sorely - if you're watching this film for any reason other than that you're a fan of the cast. I must say that, given the ridiculously shoddy script and surreal situations this film purports to spin into a narrative, the actors really give it their all. The villains are chilling despite being stereotypes, the little girl (whose name I cannot find) is a fabulous actress. But the story, the story, is just plain too ridiculous to be believed - as you discover the motivation for the unleashing of the virus, the horror-movie schlockiness of a secondary character's demise, the soap-opera mentality that seemed to underpin the whole enterprise... by the time you hit the almost airborne climax, with bit actors exploding in pustules and misguided emoting by all concerned, you'll be wondering just what happened to a franchise once so promising.
It's called cashing in - and in this instance, it produced a film so drearily dreadful that I can't even be bothered to go beyond a fifth paragraph in my review. Just be warned: stay away for your sanity and health, and you should be all the better for it.
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