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The John Cusack-starring 'Shanghai' is a dreary 'Casablanca' retread

The John Cusack-starring 'Shanghai' is a dreary 'Casablanca' retread
Li Gong and John Cusack in "Shanghai." (Handout / TNS)

The World War II spy thriller "Shanghai," which initially played in China in 2010, is just now getting a U.S. release, but cries of a lost masterpiece are unlikely.

Like a smudgy printout from a toner-deficient copier, this "Casablanca" retread, starring John Cusack as an undercover naval intelligence officer and Gong Li as the mysterious wife of a gangster (Chow Yun-Fat), feels entirely disposable despite considerable production values and a larding of the cast with noteworthy stars from Japan (Ken Watanabe, Rinko Kikuchi) and China (Gong, Chow).

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Hossein Amini's script is set in 1941 and convolutedly tracks Cusack's character's investigation into a colleague's murder. Against the backdrop of Japanese occupiers, resisting Chinese and opportunistic Germans, the film is a checklist of cloak-and-dagger tropes and self-conscious noir dialogue.

Under Mikael Håfström's visually clunky, rhythmless direction, it's a snooze of epic sameness: choppy action scenes, a blankly stern Cusack, and too many allegiance shifts to count or care for.

Gong is as radiantly melancholy a presence as ever, her elegant intelligence emitting its own transporting glow, but it's a lonely light in an otherwise dreary wartime saga.

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"Shanghai"

MPAA rating: R for strong violence, drug use, brief language.

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

Playing: In general release.

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