Kurando Mitsutake‘s Lion-Girl has an all-timer of an eye-catching opening scene, in which several actors and actresses so toned they could have been airbrushed by AI sit fully, full-frontally naked in a spa. When one woman turns up the heat in the room, everyone turns toward the especially comely young lady in the corner (Tori Griffith) and warns her she can either boil alive or “surrender your lifeforce.” Smiling, she opts for neither choice, as horns and fangs start to bust out of her antagonizers’ heads and mouths till they look like colorful Asian demon mask art above the neck and the same airbrushed nudists below that. But their prey has a secret, and it’s one you’ve probably guessed by now: she’s the superhero Lion-Girl.
The Mane Event?
Nothing else in the movie could possibly live up to that, but it’s not like it tries much, either. Sure, it tries to get Griffith naked as often as possible, as if to definitively prove this former teen star is all grown up. The demons, whom we will soon come to know as Anoroc, deliver bloody kills, often with the aid of obviously plastic swords and toy guns. But all of those moments are sewn together with long, unbearable stretches of non-acting punctuated by the kind of synth score that comes pre-programmed into the keyboard when you buy it.
A couple of the Asian actors scream their lines entertainingly, but most of the cast has no idea how to deliver dialogue on camera. As an evil warlord, Derek Mears actually tries to give a semi-nuanced performance, but getting no help from anyone else, he eventually dons Wish.com Darth Maul makeup and fake fangs to yell his way through the finale.
During an interminable opening stretch of narration over drawings, which actually tell a better story than the entire rest of the movie, we learn of a meteor-induced apocalypse, which has left Tokyo island the last land mass on Earth, ruled like a modern-day Shogunate. The meteors created the monstrous Anoroc, who have mutant powers and must kill people to stay alive, but recently, a new strain called Man-Anoroc has emerged: humans who maintain all the monster powers but none of the bloodlust. Lion-Girl is one of these, though it takes everyone longer than it should to figure this fact out. In a nod to turn-based RPGs, the Anoroc fights often pause to explain which special move each one is using. It’s a creative choice, if not an especially fun one for the audience.
Waterworld, Minus Water
Lion-Girl wears a Voltron-ish black lion mask and a bodysuit — at least until she trades up for gold armor later on — that sometimes disappears because nudity sells. Hell, at one point, we even see flashbacks projected on her naked boobs and butt for no particular reason besides the obvious. There’s no denying the primal appeal such scenes will have for the intended audience, but there’s also no denying that this is a 122-minute movie with a lot of pointless plot explanation that amounts to “drive a pickup truck, run into the bad guy, and fight him.” For all the talk of this being a new Waterworld, one character actually points out that she’s never seen the ocean, and that doesn’t seem to make sense to her because it ought to be everywhere. Every viewer will concur.
Lion-Girl is based on the manga by Devilman creator Go Nagai, and the nudity and practical gore effects represent that aspect of his work, at least. Surprisingly, there’s no sex, though a scene in which a naked woman gets tortured with a branding iron while shaking her breasts at the camera and promptly vomiting…feels like it was somebody’s twisted fetish. Somebody I never want to meet.
So Much Dead Space
Describing such moments, though, runs the risk of making the movie sound like a must-see rather than a should-avoid-while-sober. Somebody could probably edit all the breasts, beasts, and blood into a tight 45 minutes of insanity that would be worth it, but unless you’re inebriated enough to enjoy the stretches of monotone delivery, terrible wigs, and every last little weird detail being over-explained, you’d do better to rent an Axel Braun superhero porn parody. This is a movie with a script that thinks the profound secret to life is the phrase “Wherever you go, there you are.” Seriously, characters repeat that multiple times like it’s Holy Scripture when they’re not unenthusiastically telling foes to “f*ck yourself in Hell.”
Star Griffith, who’s absolutely a beauty, vacillates between moments where she’s clearly really happy to just be on set and a dead-eyed stare in many of the nude scenes, as if she’s disassociating. To viewers with a bit more life experience, that can look more like a cry for help than a turn-on, especially from an actress who, sorry, isn’t very good at pretending. At least in this feature. One hopes and assumes the whole process was professionally run and won’t lead to any regrets, save from those of us viewers who watched the whole thing.
Experience Isn’t Everything
Mitsutake has apparently made six films and learned little more about the craft than the fact that he should pay for nudity and a decent make-up effects person. If he could only learn how to edit and get to the point, his exploitative instincts might one day be enough to carry him. In the meantime, if you must watch Lion-Girl, make sure to have both intoxicants aplenty and a fast-forward button handy.
Grade: 1/2 out of 5.
Lion-Girl is now available to watch on digital and Blu-ray.