As the 2014 film, Man from Reno, begins we get a gray screen. Then we hear some sounds like the ocean waves, a train whistle, then a sound which turns out to be the windshield wipers of a moving car, and is the first real visual that we get. This car is driving in the midst of a ‘thick as pea soup fog’ – meaning visibility is less than poor, or verging on dangerous. Who is driving and where is the car is info we don’t have yet.
Eventually the camera shows us the driver. We can see he is an older man, and we can also tell that this is truly not a night to be out on this particular stretch of road. The car radio is on and we hear the terms Bay Area, the peninsula, and the fact that the fictional San Marco County is getting the worst of the bad weather.
Which was really confirmed when our driver almost hits an abandoned car that is sitting on the road rather than pulled off to the side. No sign of life or anything else, and this is why our driver reaches for his police radio, He’s going to report the missing vehicle as he is a Sheriff. Pepe Serna has the role of the Sheriff.
Moments later while still on the road, the Sheriff’s car hits a man. The car was proceeding quite slowly, and the impact wasn’t too severe, as shortly thereafter the man who was hit by the car is up on his feet and tries to run away. He doesn’t get very far as the Sheriff spots him collapsed in the road.
Cut to the hospital where a doctor is describing the man’s injuries to the Sheriff. Some cuts, a concussion, and a few bruises – but he will be alright. The Sheriff wants to talk to the injured man but the doctor says the man is asleep. By the next morning, the man has checked himself out of the hospital
We next get a helicopter view as it comes off the bay and flies over the Embarcadero Ferry Terminal in San Francisco. Cut to a woman in a car. She flashes back to a recent book tour in Japan that she was a part of . She’s a writer of mystery novels. Her name is Aki Akahori (she’s played by Ayako Fujitani) and she will fancy herself as something like the lead character in her books – a sleuth called Inspector Takabe. But pressures (not described) caused her to abandon the book tour. She winds up in SF for R & R and some downtime. The cab takes her to a hotel.
The next we see of her she’s at a family gathering of old friends in SF. While Aki does some cool things about another guest at this party – like acting as if she was deducing he went to Stanford, and he has an Ivy League manner to him. But we don’t get a lot of info other than the fact that these folks know each from past years. The male guest is kind of outsider but serves as the foil for ‘detective’ Aki.
At this point, several story lines have just begun; and there’s another that hasn’t been started yet. Lets lift up one corner of the canvas and take a peak at what is ahead – and we’ll start with Sheriff Paul Del Moral. That’s him with one of his junior officers. She’s actually his daughter and a) she has a lot to learn, and b) she wants to learn pronto. Sheriff Del Moral may not be at the center of the story – but if he’s not, then he’s only centimeters from the center
Eventually our writer/amateur detective is chatted up in the hotel lobby. By who? you must be thinking. I’ll just call him the Man from Reno to simplify matters. Because even if I mentioned his name, it would carry all the weight of a bit of gossamer. And that’s as far as I will take this introduction.
Man From Reno is a modern-day version of the mystery genre known as Noir. Director Dave Boyle kinds of presents us with a film that is part drama, part comedy, and part thriller. He has imported some items from Alfred Hitchcock’s trick bag – one of which is a priceless collection of living Indian flat-head turtles which serve as the MacGuffin or red herring.
And these turtles were not just something that appeared after a lot of hints and discussion. We did in fact get a clue in the form of a head of lettuce left behind in some abandoned luggage. But I for one did not go – Oh – a head of lettuce, show me the turtles – and neither will you.
There were also cops who were not cops, a chase sequence, some sex, a drawerful of passports, a murder, and the inexorable momentum that was both cross-cultural, funny, and quite dangerous. Like the famous fog that visits the San Francisco Bay area on a regular basis – the essence of the film is not there, sitting under a spot light awaiting discovery by the viewer. In fact. even after the film delivers resolutions to the many questions that it has presented we viewers, one still may not be sure that he or she can safely answer all the questions. We know we have seen what we needed to see, but how much of that was intentional misdirection?
Of course, that is part of the fun. It is also fun because the three leads – Aki the Japanese writer/detective, Sheriff Paul Del Moral, and the Man From Reno often resemble clothes trapped in a clothes dryer where they spin and tumble , they rise and fall, over and over. Then there’s the unraveling of the clues or reveals that is going on also within that same clothing spin dryer.
Of course Boyle and his script writers Joel Clark and Michael Lerman help considerably by starting us off with what might b called stock characters – the successful novelist, the old and wiser sheriff, and the mysterious and sexy stranger. Yes this is a film about people out of their native elements but it doesn’t reach the level of being a small group of fish out of water.
I’ll give the film high marks for its production values, its actors, and of course it always nice for me to revisit the City By the Bay. For many if not most, this is not a film that wraps everything up for you and spells out everything that was concealed by both the swirling natural fogs as well as the inner mists that we people have.
Recommended and I’ll issue a rating of four point two five. Check out the trailer: