Before he made the likes of Apollo 13 (1995), Ron Howard directed this small but often enjoyable comedy.
When car factory foreman Hunt Stevenson (Michael Keaton) persuades Japanese auto firm Assan Motors to reopen his hometown’s defunct auto factory – which has been shut down after 35 years of providing the town with its major source of income – he’s a hero.
But when the Japanese hire him to enforce their ultra-efficient policies among his American co-workers, he goes from hero to zero in seconds flat by attempting to appease both sides with a series of lies, false promises and other time-honoured comedy-contrivance techniques.
Hunt has a Nippon counterpart in a young Assan company man (Gedde Watanabe) whose insecurities and ineptitude are constantly setting him at odds with the stoical Chairman of the Board. His “humanisation” (ie: Americanisation) becomes the process by which the Japanese are ultimately made to realise the ‘error’ of their ways – at least when those ways are played out in the Reagan-era American heartland.
Michael Keaton is a deft hand at comedy, and he is capably supported by George Wendt (Cheers) and Coen brothers regular John Turturro.
The film spawned a short-lived TV sitcom of the same name starring Scott Bakula in the Keaton role and Gedde Watanabe in a different (but similar) role to the one he plays here.
Dock P Ellis Jr
Richard M McNally