July 6, 2006


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A Scanner Darkly (R)
Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder are rendered in lovely, age-reducing watercolor-y animation in A Scanner Darkly, a tale of a futuristic drug war in Orange County, California, based on the Philip K. Dick novel.

Even today there is another side to the O.C. than that seen on The O.C. Anaheim, outside the Disneyland perfection, is all sorts of seedy. Anaheim of the future is the setting of this tale. The world is awash in a perception altering drug called Substance D. Bob Arctor (Reeves) is a former family man and current burnout who lives in a rundown house with other burnouts. He is also Fred, an undercover agent investigating the drug scene. “Fred” wears a special static suit that keeps everyone, even his bosses, from knowing his real identity. Which is why they think nothing of asking Fred to spy on Bob Arctor.

Bob isn’t quite sure what to think of this either. Though he’s been investigating Substance D dealers, he’s also a Substance D user and his hold on reality is too fractured to even be called shaky. The movie floats in and out of what we can be almost certain is really happen and what we can be almost certain is a hallucination. As the story reaches it’s somewhat twisty ending, the ideas of what is real and what isn’t real and who’s on what side becomes even more muddy.

Huh, I think as I watch this movie. Interesting.

And “huh, interesting” is about the extent of the impression the movie leaves we with. It’s like passing a large, richly-colored, vaguely-message containing modern-art-ish mural. “Huh” you think as you look at some of the images — some which are nearly photo-realistic, some of which are merely hazy stand-ins for ideas. “Interesting” you think as you take in some commentary on the effects of drugs on society. “Huh, interesting” as in “that wasn’t a complete waste of my time” or “I’m not displeased at having seen that” or “how odd, oh well.”

A Scanner Darkly includes some nifty animation and a couple of clever little story twists but it has a bit of a sterile, airless feeling to it that makes it hard to get angry, excited or otherwise jazzed about what you’re watching. Like a hit of Substance D, A Scanner Darkly gives you a floaty feeling, as though the movie is just washing over you. Unlike Substance D, it does not leave you craving more. C+

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