Man From Reno is a good movie. I don’t think there’s any measurement by which one could accuse it of being bad. That’s an easy thing to state because Man From Reno doesn’t really do anything bold enough to be extra great or extra bad. It’s just regular. It’s very good at regular, but it’s hard to get excited about it.
Some details do set Man From Reno apart, though. The plot revolves around a very famous Japanese mystery novelist who takes a sudden vacation to San Francisco and gets caught up in some nefarious shit involving smuggled endangered turtles. See? Turtles! A couple people get killed, but we’re talking about turtles. That’s gotta be worth something.
Ayako Fujitani plays Aki, the novelist, and she’s a lot of fun to watch when the movie actually lets her shine. As a mystery novelist (there’s a pretty big complication when it comes to this character detail, but while it has interesting thematic value, it ultimately doesn’t affect the narrative much), her whole deal is that she can make lots of calculated guesses about people by sizing them up, kind of like Sherlock Holmes but in a more realistic, non-superpowered way.
Fujitani’s character is hard to pin down in a way that makes her more intriguing than she’d be otherwise. Within every scene, she alternates between looking annoyed like a hardass who’s all done taking your shit, to looking devilishly amused, to looking lonely and eager to connect. These shades don’t really come together, however, and we leave the film unsure how much we really got to know this woman.
As Aki goes on her adventure, a small town cop played by character actor Pepe Serna investigates a strange murder. We know these two stories will eventually connect, but the hour it takes really pushes the envelope patience-wise. For more than half the film’s running time, they’re basically two separate stories going simultaneously, neither of them all that interesting in and of themselves.
When they do connect, however, things pick up, and Man From Reno becomes quite pleasant, if you’re a fan of the genre anyway. Most of the film’s nefarious activities revolve around the incredible (if we judge people by eyebrows alone) Kazuki Kitamura, who unfortunately slinks out of the film early and doesn’t return until the very end.
Speaking of the end, it’s a shocker, packing enough surprise to kind of re-contextualize the film that came before, lending events new weight and emotional importance. It’s not enough to demand a re-watch or anything, but it does help validate what was mostly a solid but empty take on the modern noir. No, the turtles do not mutate and become ninjas.