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A Scanner Darkly (DVD)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson & Rory Cochrane (Nice to see he got some work after CSI: Miami).

Rated: 15

Story: Bob Arctor (Reeves) is an undercover narcotics cop whose identity is secret even to his superiors. While investigating a group of suspects in the hope of learning the source of a drug known as Substance D, he finds himself struggling to hold onto reality. Since it's not a very interesting reality, you have to wonder why he bothers...

Comments: This movie is based on a novel by Philip K Dick who was one of my favourite authors when I was a teenager (back when I still had time to read) so I was quite looking forward to it. I was expecting a futuristic conspiracy story set on one of the moons of Jupiter. Unfortunately, I'd got entirely confused over my PKD stories and was somewhat surprised to find myself watching a near-future conspiracy story set in a house full of spaced-out junkies. It wasn't entirely what I was in the mood for... (The story I'd been thinking of is The Mold of Yancy. You can read an amusing/scary analysis of its fore-telling of the Bush administration here.)

The first thing to note about the movie is its visual style - it's sort of animated. How can a film be 'sort of' animated, I hear you ask? Well, it appears they shot it all in live-action and then traced and shaded over the top to make it into a cartoon. This probably involved a lot of work. Which is a shame because, as with cel-shaded computer games, it frequently appears quite drab. Certainly it gives the opportunity for some striking effects but most of the time it just removes detail and texture, making scenes seem lifeless.

Not that there's much going on anyway. A large part of the film is junkies sitting around being hyper, depressed or paranoid at each other. There is an actual conspiracy taking place but it isn't very fleshed out and seems tacked on.

It doesn't take long to wonder if the movie is going anywhere. And it's not really. It does make the point that drugs are bad for you and big corporations aren't necessarily much better but that's not entirely startling news. I nearly fell asleep.

The whole thing feels like a waste of the decent cast.

Conclusion: I'd like to give A Scanner Darkly a high mark for tackling a difficult subject, for artistic style and for being based on something by Philip K Dick. Problem is, I wanted to watch the second half in fast-forward because I was bored. The review scheme says I have to give it a 1. (Cue five junkies rambling interminably about authoritarian abuse of objective integrity... At length... And nothing much else happening... And this conclusion dragging on... Until... ... ... It ends).

Explosions: None.
Rambling: Plenty.
Sense: Little.
Drug abuse: Lots.
Excitement: Not much.
Most memorable scene: A heated discussion over the exact number of gears on a mountain bike.
Really?: Yes.

Rating: 1/5.

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