It's difficult to give this film a clean slate review with the anime version so fresh in my mind. I suppose with any adaptation or remake there is inevitable comparisons to be made but the film must also be able to stand alone. In this case, those comparisons are not going to be favourable as this American take on Death Note is lacking in several aspects.
Firstly, let's acknowledge that the anime series is padded out and there is definitely the scope for a shortened version of the story that can work well. However, what the screenwriters here have done is not just reduce some of the plot elements, but also all of the interesting character elements as well.
So, instead of having Light versus L, a battle of two great prodigious minds, playing cat and mouse on an intimate level in the ultimate test of intellect, we have a charmless nerk up against an emotionally overwrought insomniac.
In this version, Light is a teenage boy with not much personality who finds himself the owner of a Death Note that allows him to kill anyone he chooses. Thinking with his cock, he immediately tells a girl all about it so she'll think he's cool (okay, that bit is quite realistic). After that, the drama between him and the girlfriend draws attention away from what should be the main conflict of him going up against L. And the girlfriend Mia is badly served by this also, as she becomes a major factor in the plot and would clearly have been a heartier character to have in the lead role.
L is not the idiot savant that we know from the anime, instead his eccentricities seem to be put down to an overly sugar rich diet and lack of sleep. He also flips halfway through the film into an emotional wreck on a personal crusade, rather than the cold and logical thinker that he should be.
In order to maintain the shorter run time, many plot elements - most notably the cult of Kira - are rushed through with a bit of montage magic. This obviously leaves the film lacking in any great depth and fails to fully explore the moral dilemma at the heart of the story. The discussion can be summed up thusly:
“Killing bad guys is good!”
“But if you kill bad guys you are a killer also.”
“Woah, dude, that's deep.”
The film ends with cheap looking action sequences (that eat up more run time than they need) and a series of convoluted plot contrivances that have to be explained in flashback for you to understand them.
This adaptation is certainly not going to be taken up by fans of the original as it is a fairly shallow take on the story, but does it stand up as a film that could find a new legion of fans? Well, if you like insipid teen melodrama then this may very well be the version for you.
Shallow and charmless; 5/10