DVD REVIEW: Gung Ho (1986)

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THE SET-UP
A foreman (Michael Keaton) convinces a Japanese automaker to reopen the shuttered auto plant in his Pennsylvania town, only to find the clash of cultures is greater than he expected. Also stars Gedde Watanabe, Mimi Rogers, and George Wendt.
Directed by Ron Howard

THE DELIVERY
Ron Howard followed up his 1985 hit Cocoon with this “culture clash” comedy starring Michael Keaton. The future Batman had already proven his comedic chops in films like Mr. Mom and Johnny Dangerously. Here, we get more of that, but Keaton also proves himself to be a capable leading man, as he single-handedly carries this film from start to finish. 

The premise was ripped from the headlines of the time (frankly, it could be ripped from today’s headlines as well): an American car factory that had been shut down finds new life when the Japanese come in to make their cars. Of course, the movie relies on the stereotypes of work-obsessed Japanese and lazy Americans. Whether or not the stereotypes are fair isn’t the point: there’s enough truth there to make the movie funny, and Keaton takes full advantage.

Keaton plays Hunt Stevenson with a smarmy charm similar to his Johnny Dangerously character, only not so over-the-top. Any other actor in the role would have played Hunt as too abrasive and unlikeable, but Keaton injects enough heart and likeability to make him appealing. He’ll say or do anything to help keep the auto plant open, and even in his dishonesty, you can’t help but root for the guy. Take Keaton out of the film, and this is very average comedy. The only other real standout is Gedde Watanabe (Sixteen Candles), who plays Kaz, the Japanese manager of the factory. He plays off of Keaton very well, and his comic timing is outstanding. He was even funny on the short-lived Gung Ho sitcom that later aired on television, even if the show itself was fairly terrible.

Ron Howard has shown himself to be a deft director at both drama and comedy, and while Gung Ho is entertaining, the script is a little too cliche and predictable. As a result, Howard’s direction is a bit pedestrian. It has some nice moments, and plenty of laughs, but the film is too by-the-numbers to be truly classic. It is fairly predictable, and you know exactly how it will end, but at least you still laugh along the way. 

VIDEO AND AUDIO
The video transfer for this standard DVD is not ideal. There’s heavy grain and the video master used looks like a second generation dub. The result is a soft image with very little detail and washed-out colors. There is also some minor dust and debris on the print used in the transfer. The video compression rate looks to be lacking as well, as minor artifacting could be seen several times. 

Audio is better, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix included on the disc. However, while there is good clarity, the sound doesn’t have a deep, rich sound, and there is very little surround effect. A French 2.0 mix is included as well.

SPECIAL FEATURES
None.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 6

Video: 5

Audio: 8

Extras: 1

Overall score: 4.75

Gung Ho is a pretty funny slice of the 1980s, and Michael Keaton makes it all worthwhile. However, a lackluster technical presentation hurts the DVD release, as does a lack of extras. The DVD is definitely worth a rent, and if it is on sale for the right price, worth picking up.

DVD SPECS
Release Date: June 25, 2013

Rating: PG-13

Running time: 112 minutes

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Dolby Digital 2.0, French 2.0

Subtitles: English

Special Features: None

Label: Warner Archive

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