Rubber-limbed master thief Arsene Lupin III is back, ready to snatch money from the purses of parents looking to keep the kids occupied over the holidays. In this slick 3D computer animation, veteran crowd-pleaser Takashi Yamazaki repeats the trick he pulled in 2014’s “Stand by Me Doraemon.” It’s not so much a reboot as a rehash: a composite of familiar tropes, given an immaculate digital patina that makes the characters look like waxworks stolen from Madame Tussauds.
Lupin and his gang have appeared in many different guises since making their manga debut in 1967. During the past decade, the franchise has gone steamy in “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine” (2012) and high-tech in last year’s “Lupin the Third Part 5,” but Yamazaki’s screenplay prefers the gentleman thief of Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Castle of Cagliostro” (1979).
It’s clear within the opening minutes that the director isn’t out to reinvent the series. The film is imbued with a nostalgic glow as warm as the evening light that bathes many of the scenes. The story’s 1960s setting avoids the complications of modern life, and the components are so well worn, even newcomers may find it feels a bit old hat.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||93 mins|
Every Lupin adventure needs something worth stealing, and this time it’s an archaeologist’s diary containing the secrets to everlasting energy. When the book falls into the hands of a sinister organization with Nazi roots, Lupin (voiced by Kanichi Kurita) joins forces with a young archaeologist, Laetitia (Suzu Hirose), to get it back.
They’re accompanied by sharp-shooter Daisuke Jigen (Kiyoshi Kobayashi) and swordsman Goemon Ishikawa (Daisuke Namikawa), and alternately helped and hindered by the buxom Fujiko Mine (Miyuki Sawashiro). And, naturally, Inspector Zenigata (Koichi Yamadera) and the boys from Interpol are always just one step behind.
These capers are as predictable as fans would expect: There’s no dilemma that can’t be solved in deus ex machina fashion within 30 seconds, and Lupin is forever foiling adversaries with a sleight of hand and a knowing smirk.
The absence of any real danger means that it’s never more than moderately engrossing, and the action seems to get less imaginative as the film progresses, building to an overblown climax in which most of the characters are left standing around with nothing to do.
The brightest moments are when Yamazaki cuts loose and takes advantage of what 3D animation allows. A scene of Lupin and Laetitia sparring on a Parisian rooftop is so delightful, I wish it had gone on for longer; ditto a skydiving sequence that suggests the director has been cribbing from Kathryn Bigelow’s ’90s surfer caper, “Point Break.”
While it has the same commercial imperatives as the current wave of Disney remakes, “Lupin III: The First” doesn’t attempt to update the sensibilities of the source material. Jigen’s trademark cigarette — the kind of detail a prudish Hollywood producer would doubtless omit — is still present, even if Lupin himself seems to have kicked the habit.
The biggest difference is Laetitia, a tougher and more resourceful heroine than the swooning princess of “The Castle of Cagliostro,” made all the more endearing by Hirose’s performance.
The film ends with a quote from Lupin’s creator, Kazuhiko “Monkey Punch” Kato, who passed away earlier this year. This is an affectionate tribute to his most famous character, but it never dares to be anything more than that.
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