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Nothing for David Lean to lose sleep over
on 28 November 2008
When it played originally in the UK, Return From the River Kwai carried a legal disclaimer that the film was in no way related to or a sequel to The Bridge On the River Kwai, to which the only response is "No s***, Sherlock." Where Lean had Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa, Andrew V. McLaglen has to make do with Edward Fox, Christopher Penn, Denholm Elliott and George Takei, which should tip you off what to expect. It has a good enough true story to tell - no bridge building this time, but the eventful journey of Allied P.O.W.s being sent to Japan as forced labor as the war neared its end - but while bridges and ships are blown up, planes crash and there are hundreds of extras, it all has a perfunctory feel to it and a lack of vision. Sargon Tamimi and Paul Mayersberg's script tends to be surprisingly repetitive too. It's the kind of film where a character says "We're coming into Phnom Penh," followed by a shot of a train passing a sign reading `Phnom Penh, followed by another character saying "We can't stay long in Phnom Penh," just in case anyone missed the fact that they're in Phnom Pen...
While Fawxx reigns in his self-parodic tendencies for once without ever being particularly good, Elliot is especially disastrously miscast as a commando leading local guerrilla forces. Blinking wildly every time he fires a gun, it's like someone hired the local vicar to play Rambo in the village fete. The Japanese characters naturally come off worse. Tatsuta Nakadai's alcoholic commander fares well enough in his few Japanese scenes but his inability to speak English results in him awkwardly delivering many of his lines in clumsy phonetic Ing-leesh, though he's easily outdone by Takei's abysmal pantomime villain performance as his sadistic second in command that's straight out of a bad WW2 propaganda film (as is Lalo Schifrin's heavy-handed score). While it all plays rather better on the small screen than it did on the big one, it's one of those films you really don't need to see. Shot with one eye firmly on the late 80s video market boom and never released in the US in any form, it's no surprise that this DVD ended up being given away free with a UK newspaper.