Rising Sun is a technically marvelous, thematically bland, but steadfastly entertaining indictment of corporate corruption, analysis of the international markets (East and West, to be most specific), and murder mystery all wrapped into one. While I have never read the Michael Crichton novel on which it is based, from what I can tell, director Philip Kaufman’s take is a loose adaptation. Crichton’s novel has a reputation as a slap-to-the-face of American business, exposing the somewhat insidious practices of Japanese conglomerates and how these practices are keeping them ahead of the game. Most of this is lost in the feature film, and I believe its softening hindered the rest of Rising Sun as well.

The story revolves around the murder of a woman, girlfriend to a Japanese playboy named Eddie (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Called to the scene are detectives John Connor (Sean Connery in tip-top form) and Web Smith (Wesley Snipes, flexing his acting chops over his muscles). Connor’s reverence for Japanese culture, in addition to his ties with the company heads, baffles Smith whose novice canon can’t fully comprehend the situation at hand. Connor is always one step ahead of Smith, acting as a mentor throughout most of the narrative.

Upon reviewing the surveillance tapes that documented the murder, all signs point to Eddie. Connor and a one-note detective played by Harvey Keitel, are seasoned veterans who choose not to be quick on the draw but instead reflective. Detailed analysis of the tapes by a brilliant technician (Tia Carrera) prove Eddie’s innocence and that the tapes have been doctored. Considering this crime occurred at the business office, it instantly becomes clear that the corporation is up to foul play. This is where the plot gets real tricky, so be sure to pay attention and keep the cell phones on vibrate.

Ultimately, the crime gets solved but not without a few hiccups along the way. As interesting as the proceedings may be, the film is a little too ponderous and pretentious for its own good. It tries too hard to add depth, and at times, redemption to characters who we care little about. Additionally, while the convoluted plot isn’t too tough to follow, it most certainly could have been simplified. Kaufman struggles to hit a happy medium with the material, alternating between breathless thriller to complex-noir without hitting either on the head.

Fortunately, it’s technically flawless. While some of the editing is questionable (Use of the wipe?), its a great looking film. The cinematography is top notch, used as much as a tool as it is a frame. The first act sports some tightly shot, fast moving dolly shots that really ratchet the tension and ambiguity that naturally are associated with fresh crime scenes. Additionally, the hauntingly passive score never outweighs the dialogue, but instead facilitates its emotional depth.

Kaufman’s ambitions got the best of him on this feature. Underneath the surface is an interesting admonition about intercultural trade and there are some compelling performances, but it’s watered down by gaping plot holes, a winding story, and a malnourished script.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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