Synopsis: When a Japanese car company buys an American plant, the American liason must mediate the clash of work attitudes between the foreign management and native labor.
Stars: Michael Keaton, Gedde Watanabe, George Wendt. Mimi Rogers, Sô Yamamura, Sab Shimono, John Turturro
Director: Ron Howard
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: You really have to keep in mind that Gung Ho was made in 1986 to swallow some of the ideas that the film offers up to you. The world was in a totally different place with tensions high surrounding the protection of the job of the American worker as many jobs started being farmed out to other countries. Those that had built their homes and families around a job were suddenly out of work as companies found faster and cheaper ways to keep up with products that were highly in demand.
In Gung Ho, that product is automobiles and the film focuses on a Japanese company that comes to a small town and takes over an automobile manufacturing plant. The American workers clash with the Japanese management and star Michael Keaton is left in the middle as a liaison between the two. His loyalty to his friends is tested as he tries to play both sides…to disastrous results.
Man, this sounds like a heavier film than it actually is. Director Ron Howard (Backdraft, Parenthood, Splash) applies a light touch to the film and populates the cast with solid character actors with familiar faces. Keaton, in the second of three movies he’d make with Howard (Night Shift and The Paper are the others) is nicely cast in a role that ultimately gets frustrating as written by Edwin Blum, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandell. You see, Keaton’s character makes so many lame-brained promises and tells so many white lies that he almost solely creates the problems for everyone in the film. In the hands of another actor, this may have proven interminable to watch…but Keaton is so likable and laid-back that he makes it work.
What doesn’t work for modern audiences are some truly cringe-inducing racial stereotypes that I can’t imagine played well even when it was first released. Making nearly every Japanese joke known to man without the slightest bit of irony, I’m betting many of the people involved would like to forget these dark points of what is otherwise a very upbeat film.
Stereotypes aside, Gung Ho is a nicely structured film that’s not all together forgettable…but not one that will last in your memory either. Thanks to a typically Howard-esqe strong supporting cast and Keaton’s leading man, it is a harmless distraction.