Generally, the worst thing you can say about a movie in which a cranky grown-up misfit gets thrown together with a terminally adorable tyke who becomes his redeemer is that it’s cloying sentimental glop. (If this genre could repackage Adam Sandler as a benevolent father figure in ”Big Daddy,” you’d better believe it’s not for the frost hearted.) That said, watching Kikujiro, the latest offering from Japan’s granite-faced writer-director-star Takeshi Kitano, I began to wish that it were merely a syrupy, ”thank you for bein’ a friend” fable in the tradition of ”Man of the House” and ”Cop and a Half.” The film isn’t just bad; it’s a barely coherent, inert mess — a heart-tugger for voidoids.
Billed, as always, as ”Beat” Takeshi, Kitano plays a thuggish hard case similar to the ones in his lavishly overpraised yakuza art thrillers, like ”Fireworks.” This time, however, his character’s vicious temper and Charles Bronson scowl are milked for laughs. As Kikujiro, a middle-aged bum who is roped into taking a 9 year old boy on a trip to find his mother, Kitano makes no connection to the other actors on screen, including his morose young costar, Yusuke Sekiguchi. Yet we’re meant to be tickled and charmed by his grumpy solipsism. When this guy’s heart goes soft, it feels egregiously false, like a movie starring Trent Lott as a Greenpeace leader who fights to save the lives of baby seals.