Rising Sun is a textbook example of how to take a sure-fire, can't lose property and muck it up completely. It's not just a matter of the producers controversially changing the nationality of the killer that makes Rising Sun such a disappointment: where Michael Crichton's novel weaved a multi-stranded web, turning issues into clues and bombarding the reader with information and clues to keep you guessing, director Philip Kaufman simplifies and makes it all patently predictable. Subplots are poorly handled, often either never followed through or simply forgotten, and you don't even care that much about who done it, or why.
Of course, there is a difference between what makes a good book and what makes a good film, but before the rot set in Crichton didn't just write novels that read well, he wrote novels that play - turning one of his books into a film should be more a matter of editing than adapting. Yet, extraordinarily, the producers have either dropped or diluted everything that made the novel such a huge bestseller.
Crichton's strength was always his ability to put over big issue in a pulp format, but while Kaufman does tidy up his typically messy ending, hedrops most of the issues, patronisingly soft-pedalling the novel's economic/political debate, leaving just the pulp. It's rather like making The Third Man and ditching all that guff about cuckoo clocks and black marketeering, and getting rid of Orson for good measure. It may now be a gaijin who kills the girl, but it's Kaufman who kills the movie.
Kaufman has shown he can take mainstream material and imbue it with a greater significance and still turn out a terrific picture with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Right Stuff (and let's not forget, he was one of the creators of Indiana Jones), but perhaps he'd just spent too long making art movies in the interim. Here there's a snobbery to his direction, a contempt for his material that shines through in almost every frame - he thinks he's better than this, but still comes out looking like an amateur.
Where Crichton's novel was not the racist tract many claimed at the time (Crichton's criticism wass aimed directly at America's short-sighted business/political strategy), Kaufman's film comes perilously close to being just that. The xenophobia of the scene where Snipes sets some homeboys on the Japanese who are following him is an uncomfortable and tasteless exercise in ethnic stereotyping that doesn't belong in this movie.
The most astonishing lapse is in the appallingly acted and staged scene where Snipes is interrogated by his superiors. While this provides the novel with an effective framing device, only a complete idiot would include the American PR man for the Japanese corporation implicated in the conspiracy and a muckraking reporter among those present. Kaufman does. Not only is he hopeless at staging action, but scenes such as the suicide are handled with an ineptitude bordering on the infantile while some of the sexual overtones are feeble beyond belief - hey, don't forget that close-up of the next door neighbour's crotch so we know what Wesley's thinking, Phil! If anything, the absolute stinker of an epilogue is even worse, coming on like the warm wrap-up to a 70s cop show and spelling out Connery and Carrere's relationship just in case we're too thick to work it out for ourselves.
Much blame for this must attach itself to executive producer Sean Connery. Too many years of being denied his due as an actor and still, one suspects, trying to overcompensate for his years in Bondage have left him a sucker for a 'quality' director and a name writer, often with disastrous consequences (cf. A Good Man in Africa). Yet if Kaufman kills the movie, Connery gives it the kiss of life. Connery is never less than watchable, and he's certainly one of the few things worth watching here, whether barking Japanese in a Scottish accent or deliberately losing at golf. It's one of the best displays of pure star quality energising a moribund picture you're likely to see.
Wesley Snipes is wildly miscast in a role that didn't just have Andy Garcia's name on it but his address and a photo of his wife and kids as well. Instead we get a another of his typically one-note aggressiveone-size-fits all performances. Supporting performances are dubious at best, with Mako, Carey-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Stan Egi faring best, countered by Ray Wise and Kevin Anderson, both even phonier than their roles.
When Rising Sun concentrates on the plot mechanics, such as the manipulation of an incriminating recording of the murder, it's fine, but what should have been great is merely an average potboiler distinguished by Connery's presence. Rupert Murdoch, who took a strong personal interest in the picture, said that if they got it wrong they deserved a sound kick in the a**. If you happen to run into him, you might want to take him up on that.