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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai Reviews

Points for an interesting concept; demerits for the dull execution. Writer-director Jim Jarmusch's first feature since his brilliant DEAD MAN is an uneasy mixture of classic samurai adventure, post-Scorsese gangster drama, hip-hop sounds and stylings, and Jarmusch's trademark brand of deadpan cool. Too bad it doesn't work, even as the postmodern comic book it aspires to be. High atop a dilapidated building in a burned-out, boarded-up urban neighborhood, a hired gun known only as Ghost Dog (a low-key Forest Whitaker) lives in contemplative isolation as a latter-day samurai, a contract killer who follows the precepts set forth in the Hagakure, the 18th century how-to manual for aspiring Japanese warriors. Chief among its teachings is total devotion of body and soul to one's master; in Ghost Dog's case, that master is Louie (John Tormey), a small-time mobster who once saved his life. Louie hires Ghost Dog to whack a fellow wiseguy named Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), who's been messing around with his boss's unstable daughter (Tricia Vessey). Ghost Dog carries out the assignment without considering the consequences. Handsome Frank was a made man, and mob boss Mr. Vargo (Henry Silva) and his lieutenant, Sonny (Cliff Gorman), demand retribution. Nothing could be further from the energy this sort of pastiche demands than Jarmusch's laconic style — perfect for the poker-faced comedy of STRANGER THAN PARADISE or death-trip mysticism of DEAD MAN, but numbing here. In reconfiguring ancient samurai legend as new-school gangster myth, Jarmusch draws heavily from all the right places — Hiroshi Inagaki's SAMURAI trilogy; Wong Kar-Wai's ASHES OF TIME; Seijun Suzuki's BRANDED TO KILL, which provides Jarmusch with his best visual ideas — but he makes the film all his own mainly by draining the life out of it.