What if instead of meeting back at a warehouse, the crew in “Reservoir Dogs” had met for dinner six years later to discuss what had gone wrong with the robbery? This seems to be the question asked by writer-director Kern Saxton who makes his feature debut with “Sushi Girl.” The Quentin Tarantino reference is appropriate, since his movie is filled with elements from QT’s films, including a Mexican standoff, clever dialogue, bizarre anecdotes, a camera panning around a group of criminals as they gather at a dinner table, a flashback to a diamond heist, and not one, but four brutal torture scenes. To be fair, the fourth one was more of an homage to “Marathon Man.”
Yet there is one key original element in the story, and it involves a human piece of furniture. During the opening credits, we see two simultaneous events happening. First, criminal Fish (Noah Hathaway) is being released from prison after a six-year term. Meanwhile, a girl (Courtney Palm) is being prepped to serve as a table for a sushi meal. You read that right. She is to remain lying down, completely naked, with food carefully placed on her. The chef (Sonny Chiba) reminds her to act like a tree. She is to never talk or make eye contact with any of the guests. In a case of “you can’t make this stuff up,” if you Google sushi girls you can see this is a real thing.
The meal is organized by Duke (Tony Todd), a brutal man who has an affinity for Asian culture, black suits and cigars. Judging by the mark on the sushi girl’s back, the man is a sadist. Duke has presumably organized the dinner to welcome back Fish after his six-year spent in the slammer and has invited the members of the old crew to join him. There is Crow (Mark Hamill) a gay man with glasses, long blonde hair and a voice that slightly sounds like Roger Rabbit. Next there is Max (Andrew Mackenzie) a brute whose facial hair evokes days spent with bikers. Finally there is Francis (James Duval), the seemingly straight-laced one in the group, if it wasn’t for his cocaine habit.
Before they begin to eat, Duke explains the have to start from the girl’s extremities and move towards the middle, where lies the fish fugu. He explains fugu is a puffer fish that if not cooked properly, can poison you. Fish the ex-con is not impressed, and even tells without a hint of irony that he hates sushi. This is when Duke reveals the true intent of the evening. The gang is grateful he never gave up their names while in prison, but they have one important question: where are the diamonds? When Fish was arrested, he was caught with a bag of diamonds the gang had stolen. However the bag in question was empty.
As the evening progresses, the sushi girl hears the men throw accusations at each other, draw their guns, and resort to torture to find the truth. A series of flashback shows the gang getting ready for the heist, the heist taking place and its aftermath. The robbery is a high point, as it includes cameos by Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Danny Trejo.
Yet it is Mark Hamill who steals the show as Crow, the well-dressed psychopath who finds creative ways to chopsticks when the rounds of torture begin. Hamill spent years doing the voice of the Joker on the Batman animated series, and this performance makes you wonder what it would have been like to have him play the clown prince of crime in “The Dark Knight.” He has a great time unnerving Max, who is much more direct in his violence, but less intelligent, something Crow likes to point out.
This may not be the most original crime-thriller ever made and it has a few plot holes that will nag you afterwards, but it has a clever ending and very satisfying ending. Although a word of warning: this is a brutal film with plenty of bloody violent scenes, one of which will make you nervous the next time you go to the dentist. You may also never look at sushi, or sushi girls the same way.
(“Sushi Girl” premiered on video on demand on November 27 and will be in theatres on January 4, 2013.)