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Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly is rarely less than intriguing, but also very rarely more than that. It seems resolved to refuse us such mundane elements as suspense or intensity, and so we’re left with its unusual visuals, and with an idea or two, but not much plot or character.

Ironically, Richard Linklater’s first foray into this variety of stylized animation/live action hybrid, Waking Life, was much more exciting, even though it consisted primarily of talking heads, a plotless series of philosophical duets, rather like mini-My Dinner with Andre-style conversations. Here, with the action based on an apparently more or less faithful adaptation of a novel by science fiction master Philip K. Dick, the storytelling gets lost in some kind of fog. This may intentionally mirror the mind-altering effects of the addictive drug that is the center of the plot, but it’s not much fun for an audience. (There were several walkouts at the showing I attended.)

Keanu Reeves, who has been sleepwalking through many roles for quite some time, is well cast as the somnambulist hero – although I’m not sure if that’s a compliment. Robert Downey, Jr., is much more riveting as a duplicitous, hyper addict. He’s almost the only interesting character, in fact.

The visual handling of a plot element in which undercover cops wear high-tech disguises that constantly morph their appearance, so that they look like everyone and no one and can’t be identified, at first seems imaginative but rather rapidly becomes annoying. And the last couple of scenes seem unnecessarily ambiguous and difficult to follow. It’s hard to tell whether this is intentional; and by that point it may not matter to some viewers.

Linklater is a gifted director who has given us at least one masterpiece (Before Sunrise), and who hardly ever repeats himself. I can hardly wait to see what he comes up with next.

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