The trailer for Have a Nice Day put me in the mood for something electrifying. What I got was an interesting disappointment.
At first, the decrepit urban landscapes and hard-boiled dialogue in Chinese director Liu Jian’s animated feature had me enthused about a new flavour of Neo Noir. Here were several sleazy and untrustworthy characters, each following their own story arc, each eager to get rich in a hurry, preferably by swiping the bag full of stolen mob money that’s getting kicked around town. It should be easy to make a good movie out of this.
Once the flush of genre optimism wears off, though, the films flaws come into focus. The artwork reminds me of Heavy Metal (1981) — it has the superficial “realism” you’d get from tracing a photograph, but the details look wrong, like a pair of tiny eyes or a face that’s a different colour from the arms. Worse, the penny-pinching animation style means that there’s hardly any movement. More often than not, we’ll hear something happen, while looking at the placid expression of a motionless bystander. It would be an exaggeration to say that it’s more like a slide show than a movie, but it wouldn’t be a huge exaggeration. And the pace is leaden. A film that runs a scant 74 minutes (egad! Is that all?) should not feel this padded.
Occasionally the film will give us something weird, which livens things up while undermining the otherwise mundane tone. One of the characters claims to possess actual, working X-Ray glasses, and the film seems to back up his claim. A professional killer carries a little spray bottle filled with instant knock-out spray, which he handles without gloves or a filter mask. Two characters have a full-on dream sequence about an imaginary paradise they hope to get to. Car radios play snippets of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech, and people mutter about Brexit — two details that will help future viewers determine exactly which year this film was made. There’s a decent amount of cool noir dialogue, hampered by a somewhat tin-eared translation. (Translation issues might also account for the meaningless English title.) The fun elements shake things up for a few seconds, and then we’re back to static pointlessness.
There’s some neat stuff here — possibly enough neat stuff to keep some viewers enthused throughout — but if you let that enthusiasm wane, it will not return easily, and you’ll be in for a bit of a slog.
Have A Nice Day screens Thursday, Sept. 28 at 9:45pm at Eau Claire 2, and Sunday, Oct. 1, at 3:30 p.m. at Eau Claire 6 as part of the Calgary International Film Festival. For tickets go to calgaryfilm.com.
John Tebbutt is the Video Vulture. He has been writing about obscure and ridiculous cinema since 1997. You can keep up with his nonsense on his website, Facebook and Twitter. Check out the latest episode of his online series here.