A Moody Thriller Saddled By The Elgort Of It All

The ensemble cast ends up getting much more to do over the course of the episodes following the first one, which only throws into sharper relief the reality that Elgort is the odd man out. It’s not just that Elgort’s performance is weak relative to the rest of the ensemble, though that can’t be ignored. In the excellent “West Side Story,” Elgort’s flatness as a performer felt like an appropriate fit to the bland, Romeo-esque romantic archetype he embodied. (And in the muscular action comedy “Baby Driver,” Elgort was used well by writer/director Edgar Wright as more of a vessel for propulsive action than deep emotion or thought.)

But in “Tokyo Vice,” Jake Adelstein is meant to be both shrewd enough to spot a grander conspiracy that goes beyond even a string of mysterious deaths that most Japanese cops refuse to explore as murders (even in the case of one where a man was clearly stabbed), and yet naive enough to realize too late that his investigation may create heartbreaking collateral damage. In short, Jake is meant to be a fairly three-dimensional character, but one who reads as a lot more uninvolving due to his performer. It shouldn’t be quite so enjoyable to watch Jake, in a mid-season episode, get thrashed about a bit during a martial-arts lesson. And yet, here we are.

If there is a true strength beyond the cast surrounding Elgort in “Tokyo Vice,” it’s inherent in the show’s name. Within the five episodes made available, it’s clear how beneficial it was for the cast and crew to make “Tokyo Vice” in Tokyo itself. Even though the show functions as a turn-of-the-21st-century period piece, its setting allows Tokyo — as horary as the notion may be — to be a character within the larger story. Early on, there’s a general sense of bafflement among both the other up-and-coming newspaper reporters at Jake’s outlet, as well as his supervisor (Rinko Kikuchi), about why he left America, but it’s very easy to grasp why the ex- pat fell in love with the striking and unique geography and cultural climate of Tokyo. Michael Mann as well as the other two directors, Hikari and Josef Kubota Wladkya, who helm the other four episodes, all bring Tokyo to life in a way that’s so captivating that it’s often as enjoyable to look at this show as it is to get involved in the story being told.

That, frankly, is both encouraging and discouraging. “Tokyo Vice” is just the latest HBO Max original series, but seems a bit less likely to grab the zeitgeist the way that “The Flight Attendant” or “Hacks” have, in part because its look is a lot more compelling than what’s on screen. So many of the story arcs in “Tokyo Vice,” once they’re truly teased out after the premiere hour, hint at something larger and more dramatically encompassing. But every time the show shifts back to Jake as a character — even as we get hints of how he’s running away from at-home responsibilities — it reveals his great flaws, especially since so many of the Tokyo natives Jake encounters are plenty willing to assist him with very little reason why. “Tokyo Vice” has its moments, and getting Michael Mann as the first episode’s director is a true ace in the hole. But that’s kind of the best trick this show has to offer.

“Tokyo Vice” premieres on HBO Max on April 7, 2022.

Leave a Comment