Monday, 23 June 2014

Ricky Rouse Has a Gun Review (Jorg Tittel, John Aggs)

I would love to have read the pitch for this book because I just did not get what the point of it was - all I know is, I was immensely bored while reading this and I didn’t like it one bit. This might be the worst satire I’ve ever read because it’s so inept.

From the blurb: “(Ricky Rouse) is a relentless action comedy, a satire of US–China relations, a parody of Western entertainment, and a curious look at China—a country that, once we look past its often outrageous copyright infringements, is a culture ripe with innovation and a unique, courageous spirit.”

I don’t usually quote the blurb in reviews because it’s lazy but I had to with Ricky Rouse because I’m having a hard time figuring out what this book is supposed to be about - also, ignore everything from “a curious look…” because it’s not that. I know what it is on the surface - Die Hard in an amusement park - but is it supposed to be? This is from Chris Sprigman’s (overly-intellectual for such a dumb book) introduction: 

“The story of Ricky Rouse Has a Gun is mostly about one man’s quest to deal with the personal emotional fallout of war, to re-establish his relationship with his young daughter, and to find love after the failure of his marriage.”

On the one hand it seems like the publisher is implying the Die Hard aspect of the book is “a parody of Western entertainment” (if that is what it’s referring to and not the amusement park angle), but the guy writing the intro seems to take this aspect seriously. So which is it? 

Well, Sprigman’s intro focuses on shanzhai, which is when Chinese culture appropriates a western icon and indigenizes them, making them Chinese, which is certainly evident here; every cartoon character in the book is recognisable from pop culture, and you could argue that the difficult relationship between America and China plays out in the volatile finale. 

But what sticks out most prominently are the action hero movie cliches and stereotypes that make up the majority of this book, so I’m inclined to believe that this is the “parody of Western entertainment”. If it isn’t then it should be castigated for parodying western entertainment while becoming a parody of western entertainment - ie. the most incompetent satirical attempt, ever.

The story is that Rick Rouse is a US soldier who finds out his wife’s leaving him. He decides to desert and wander around Asia for a few years, winding up in a Chinese amusement park that rips off Disneyland. Through a series of coincidences, he’s hired to be Ricky Rouse, the park’s new mouse mascot, just as his daughter is about to visit him along with some disguised terrorists out to make some money taking hostages and a political point. It’s up to Rick to save his family from the terrorists in a confined space at Christmas no less! So it’s basically Die Hard in an amusement park. 

What I don’t understand is: why parody action movies? It’s a self-parodying genre! But writer Jorg Tittel and artist John Aggs do it anyway so we have: the deadbeat dad saving his daughter and ex-wife, along with her new husband (who’s a good provider but isn’t a killing machine), cliche; numerous scenes of the hero being shot at but never getting hit cliche; several moments where the hero does get shot but doesn’t die cliche, including his Chinese friend who 1) falls off of a water tower and lands on his back but lives, 2) gets shot in the torso by a rifle but lives, 3) gets shot in the torso again while taking the bullet at the last minute for another character cliche - and, at the end of the book, we see his ARM in a SLING! Man should’ve died at least three times!! 

Other cliches: villain is a rich, old white guy; despite not having seen him in years, his daughter is still devoted to her selfish father; the beautiful woman who’s also Rick’s boss who hates him, immediately jumps into bed with him once she discovers he’s a father who says he loves his daughter; the terrorists’ plan doesn’t make any sense and no-one would’ve actually signed on to join him in the first place but they do because a villain needs lackeys; motivations are meaningless and distract from the endless, dumb action. 

The story isn’t interesting to follow because our heroes are invincible - when no obstacle is too big for our two ordinary yet unstoppable heroes, like being outnumbered by a bunch of heavily armed terrorists, and they’re somehow more effective than Chinese special forces, then there’s no tension whatsoever. Why worry about our hero taking a bullet when he’s already taken five and he’s unfazed - look, he’s got a scratch on his cheek to show he’s been shot in the chest multiple times! But then it’s a parody, right? So, what - this is supposed to be mundane and appeal to readers because of this superficiality? What if the audience doesn’t care for dumb action movies and would appreciate a well-thought out satire with something to say? This book would totally bore you. And it does. 

Maybe the point was to create a shanzhai version of Die Hard but why create a much more boring, unexciting story of that great movie in the first place? Because you want to satirize intellectual property rights ownership between two cultures?! You see what I mean about not knowing what the point of it all was? 

It’s also an enormously patronising story - Chinese culture is great and their wealth is staggering but they’ll always need an American hero to save them. 

So back to the blurb - is this a “relentless action comedy”? The action is relentless, even though you want it to stop and develop a story worth reading instead, and it is funny how badly written the script is and how poorly put together the action sequences were. Is this “a satire of US-China relations”? In the most ham-fisted, least insightful way possible, yes. American companies do not like it when Chinese companies don’t pay them for using their slightly tweaked intellectual properties. And is this “a parody of Western entertainment”? Absolutely - but done in such a way that it isn’t entertaining to read, nor does it seem worthwhile doing so in the first place. 

Ricky Rouse Has a Gun is a Roland Emmerich movie starring Nic Cage in comic form. If that level of cheap corniness appeals, you’ll get a lot out of this one - everyone else though, be careful, as reading this will make you dizzy from rolling your eyes so much.

Ricky Rouse Has a Gun

1 comment:

  1. With all due respect, I feel you have been thunderously dismissive of the book and were pointedly unwilling to appreciate the deeper layers of this work - which is a shame because I think you've missed out on a fun book that has something interesting and thought-provoking to say. Your review, I must say, very much reads as you absolutely not wanting to like it and not even bothering to discern positive elements, which are very clearly present.

    I found it a little strange that you referred to Prof. Sprigman's foreword as "overly intellectual", not least because you've apparently written for Sequart, which of course is academic in tone...? But, really, the subsequent "for such a dumb book" is the key to that line, and it's simply mean-spirited. For me, Sprigman provided a fascinating context with his identification of Shanzhai - which I had never heard of myself - and it sparked a more nuanced (and less knee jerk) consideration of the concepts of IP / Copyright et al – and that’s the deeper meaning of Ricky Rouse Has A Gun. Let's be honest, Sprigman wouldn't have written and put his esteemed name to it if he didn't think that the work actually reflected the themes he was referring to.

    I too identified the main thrust of the later part of the story as “Die Hard in an Amusement Park” – an element that I thought Tittel and Aggs rendered with amusing and dynamic aplomb – but that’s really not the be all and end all of Ricky Rouse Has A Gun. To judge it solely on that element is, I think, to grievously mis-judge the work as a whole and, in your review (which really isn’t good humoured, as your blog indicates criticism would be), you infer great confusion about what the book is trying to do, but you can’t seem to get past your outright irritation that the book parodies a film that you have high regard for. It’s patently obvious what the book is trying to do, and it’s using a Die Hard-style action format to refract a wider discussion/analysis about the differing attitudes of US and Chinese culture – and it does it really well, in my view.

    Obviously, no one’s forcing you to like it and if you really dislike it, then fair enough, each to their own – but your review, such as it is, doesn’t provide your readers with a truly objective critique. It’s purely destructive, as opposed to constructive, criticism. You never explore why. You really cannot suggest that Ricky Rouse is a poor book on every level and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever – that is, if I may say, critically dishonest. Were that the case, I very much doubt a respected and highly experienced comics publisher like SelfMadeHero would have gone near it, and yet they have clearly discerned it to be a project of value and thematic interest to add to their roster – and they’re right in their judgement, I firmly believe.

    As a veteran reviewer, I know the comparative ease (and “fun”) of writing a harsh review, but I believe that good practice in professional reviews is to understand that every work has an audience and that a review should make the effort to discern and identify the positives that will appeal, as well as the objective discussion of shortcomings (ie a “well-rounded” review) What you’ve done, essentially, is just gleefully pissed over a project that clearly had a lot of effort and thought put in to it. What will your readers get from that – apart from your overt self-satisfaction at wielding the axe?

    Ultimately, I don’t think you’ve given Ricky Rouse Has A Gun a fair shot (pun intended). It’s not beyond criticism, certainly, but this is just a curiously bitter hatchet job.