(US - 2017)
Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater. Cast: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe, Paul Nakauchi, Masi Oka, Jason Liles, Jack Ettlinger, Artin John. (Unrated, 100 mins)
After nearly a decade in development and with a budget reportedly between $40 and $50 million, the American adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's legendary Japanese manga series Death Note finally arrives as a Netflix Original movie with some controversial baggage in tow, facing accusations of "whitewashing" by having the story moved to the US with American characters. There's really no controversy here--there's already been several TV and movie adaptations of the series in Japan going back a decade, and moving the story to Seattle is no different than RINGU being remade as THE RING or SEVEN SAMURAI being remade as THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. If one sets aside their hand-wringing outrage and bothers watching the movie, they'll find far more legitimate reasons to dislike it. DEATH NOTE is a total misfire from director Adam Wingard, who not very long ago was a genre golden boy with YOU'RE NEXT and THE GUEST but did some damage to his growing brand with last year's heavily-hyped and ill-advised reboot BLAIR WITCH. Any hopes that BLAIR WITCH was a minor bump in the road are dashed with DEATH NOTE, where Wingard demonstrates absolutely no feeling for or connection to the material. Screenwriters Charles & Vlas Parlapanides (IMMORTALS) and Jeremy Slater (the 2015 FANTASTIC FOUR reboot and the creator of the EXORCIST TV series) make the story's transition from Japan to Seattle cumbersome and clunky, and what worked on the page and in the previous adaptations simply doesn't translate (it's also worth noting the absence of Wingard's usual writer and creative partner Simon Barrett). This gives Wingard little to work with, as he instead opts to fall back on easy solutions that makes cult movie nerds giddy, like a synth-heavy throwback score by Atticus Ross, credits in the John Carpenter font, and pointless retro fetishism with '80s songs by INXS, Berlin, Chicago, and Air Supply. These things can be fun in and of themselves in the context of a compelling film, but when they're used as desperation moves as they are here, all they do is spotlight the deficiencies, as DEATH NOTE becomes less like an American interpretation of a revered manga and more like a decade-and-a-half too late ripoff of FINAL DESTINATION and DONNIE DARKO.
ASHBY, is still so devoid of charisma and screen presence that you'll long for the relative magnetism of someone like Dane DeHaan. Stanfield's performance as L has enough eccentricity that he at least gets your attention when he's onscreen, and he, along with Dafoe's taunting tone and inimitable cackle bring Ryuk to life are the only positives about DEATH NOTE, and that's not nearly enough to salvage this from total oblivion.