Gee that long-haired multi-jointed dead Asian woman with a rather significant chip on her shoulder and her freaky white-faced meowing son sure do get around. Although hapless American student Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tried to burn down the house to stop the ghost lady’s uncontrollable rage in the first Grudge it has apparently only gotten stronger in the second. Now just by mere association one can pick up the two very uninvited guests. Karen’s sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) for example comes to Tokyo to see why her sis is in the hospital--only to see Karen fall from the roof in one big splat—and immediately gets caught up in the whole deal. Then there are some mean prep-school girls who take another girl to the house to play a prank and then they all get cursed. But one girl brings the curse back with her to the U.S. where it then infiltrates an entire apartment building. I mean for all I know I could be cursed for just watching this nonsense. Wait what’s that under my desk? No one really gets a chance to do much in Grudge 2. In fact the auditions probably went something like this: “Can you look wide-eyed haggard scared out of your mind with possibly a few tears streaming down? Perfect!” Gellar’s time is short onscreen leaving most of the heavy lifting to Tamblyn (TV’s Joan of Arcadia) who handles it as best she can. The actress isn’t a stranger to Japanese horror remakes either: If you remember she was the first victim to meet Samara the well girl in The Ring. Then there’s the crop of young stars in Grudge 2 including Arielle Kebbel (John Tucker Must Die) as the poor American teenager who inadvertently brings evil mom and son back with her to the U.S. Even Jennifer Beals (Showtime's The L Word) makes an appearance as one of the people living in the building affected by the curse. But she walks around looking like she has no idea why she made this movie. To be fair Grudge 2 isn’t a complete waste of time. Helmed once again by director Takashi Shimizu and based on the popular Japanese Ju-On series Grudge 2 does have plenty of creepy moments. Let’s just say you might think twice about looking in a closet drinking milk from the container or picking hair out of the drain. Yuck. But Grudge 2 unfortunately suffers the same fate as The Ring Two: The element of surprise is gone and the filmmakers haven’t invented anything more compelling to replace it. What’s left then is just the curse itself--and all the guttural sounds black-rimmed eyes and popping up out of nowhere gets old pretty darn quick especially when there is hardly anyone left to root for. Still it looks like they might be setting up for a Grudge 3--that is if the box office numbers hold this time around.
Hardened bad guy Yamamoto (Beat Takeshi who also wrote and directed) sneaks out of Tokyo after his Japanese mob family disbands. He travels to Los Angeles and tracks down his much younger half-brother Ken (Claude Maki) a petty drug dealer. Because thuggery is the only way of life Yamamoto knows he starts his own mini crime ring with Ken and Ken's buddies. Thanks to Yamamoto's determination not to mention his penchant for violence their little posse goes quickly from small time to the big league taking over turf from Ken's Hispanic suppliers teaming with a rival Japanese faction and facing off against the Mafia. Meanwhile as Yamamoto's gang's success grows and the money flows he develops an unexpected friendship and unlikely brotherhood bond with Ken's friend Denny (Omar Epps).
Takeshi's hard-boiled Yamamoto has two facial expressions--one with tics one without. Could one really reach the levels of violence he does in this movie without batting an eyelash? But he has an intriguing way of drawing out the viewer's sympathy even though he's hardly sympathetic toward others in the movie himself. The sadly underused Epps is very good as the wary young homeboy from a nice family who is caught up in the events around him and who has a genuine soft spot for the hardened Yamamoto. Think of Brother as the anti-Rush Hour 2 of the summer.
Sometimes it's hard to figure out what's going on in this stylish violent and weirdly comic thriller. Cryptic messages delivered in Japanese often are no more decipherable despite English subtitles and much of the first half is told in flashback a fact you may not realize until the second half starts. But once you figure it out the story moves quickly and keeps your attention--that is if you can stand to watch. There are some horrifically violent moments that just don't let up and by the second half the brutality is nonstop. Not only do you have bloody shoot-'em-ups taking place every other minute you've got a guy committing hara-kiri in front of his dinner companions fingers getting chopped off yakuza-style death by chopsticks etc. etc. (Oddly the gangsters seem to be L.A.'s only inhabitants--the cops are nowhere to be found.)