A Scanner Darkly

"Weak"

A Scanner Darkly Review


When Richard Linklater released Waking Life in 2001, he became the granddaddy of a whole new kind of filmmaking process. The film had been shot and edited like a normal feature, then sent to computer jocks who basically painted over each frame, giving the images a surreal quality of undulating colors that fell somewhere between photography and animation -- an acid-trip philosophy lesson.

Linklater returns to the same technique once again (and for the last time, from what he has said, due to rampant production difficulties) for a much more literal acid trip. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, A Scanner Darkly is a feature-length PSA on the evils of drugs and the potentially-as-damaging efforts to ferret them out of society.

Theoretically, it is a good combination - Linkater is a gifted writer and director, and Dick's source material, about a narcotics officer so deep undercover that his current assignment is to keep himself under surveillance in a slightly futuristic Orange County, has plenty of potential for an entertaining film. Unfortunately, the end product falls dramatically short of expectation, and is frankly a hot mess of police procedural, sci-fi dystopia, and the philosophic posturing of the stoner guys who lived in your dorm and never went to class.

In the beginning, Scanner sets up all the right elements that make Dick stories into trippy sci-fi actioners that really work: A new drug, Substance D, is instantly addictive, inevitably leads to brain damage, and is flooding the market despite the best efforts of law enforcement. The future's policing methods are still reliant on undercover infiltration, but the cover is so deep, not even commanding officers know who their subordinates are; at headquarters, everyone answers to codenames and wears appearance-distorting garments. That is how cop Fred (Keanu Reeves) is also the Substance D addict and petty pusher Bob Arctor. He's got a girl, Donna (Winona Ryder), a cokehead who shuns human contact, and a couple of housemates, one who needs only be described as a beach bum-stoner "dude" type (Woody Harrelson) and an unhinged, paranoid know-it-all (Robert Downey Jr., who is top notch and one of the film's saving graces). And he's also, as Fred, got himself under constant watch.

The problem is that, after all this complicated and rich setup, the movie just... stops. It's rising action that rises, endlessly, to nowhere. It makes way instead for the pretensions and self-indulgent philosophical meanderings of a group of utterly fried and paranoid characters that are neither insightful nor interesting. And when the end comes and something literally must happen, it's merely a series of twists and double crosses that seem unwarranted, given the lack of suspense up to that point.

It's too bad, too. Under the opening credits is a peppy little scene with a bit-part tweaker being pestered by an infestation of hallucinated (but resilient) aphids crawling all over him. The sequence is simultaneously fun and squicky, and it sets a great dystopic/upbeat tone that is tragically sporadic throughout the rest. But most importantly, it makes fabulous use of the animation, which is able to meld the realistic and recognizable with the fantastical in a way perfectly suited to the sun-drenched sci-fi the story calls for. And Linklater certainly has fun with the animation, using it to toy with reality and flit in and out of the increasingly conflicting halves of the protagonist's brain. Even when the film falters, it has these flawlessly jumpy visuals that make it look like it is great.

Unfortunately, beyond the aesthetics and the premise, A Scanner Darkly just stagnates. It lingers for far too long in stretches of no action and self-involved philosophizing that makes all the nifty sci-fi set up moot, and all of the talent and potential that went into it got lost somewhere along the way.

But not too darly.



A Scanner Darkly

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Friday 18th August 2006

Box Office USA: $5.3M

Box Office Worldwide: $5.5M

Budget: $8.5M

Distributed by: Warner Independent Pictures

Production compaines: Warner Independent Pictures (WIP), Thousand Words, Detour Filmproduction, Section Eight Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 124 Rotten: 56

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Fred/Bob Arctor, as Donna Hawthorne, as Ernie Luckman, Robert Downey Jr. as James Barris, Mitch Baker as Brown Bear Lodge Host, Steven Chester Prince as Cop, Natasha Valdez as Waitress, Angela Rawna as Doctor 1, Chamblee Ferguson as Doctor 2, Melody Chase as Arctor's Wife, as Charles Freck

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

War Dogs Movie Review

War Dogs Movie Review

Based on a rather astounding true story, this comedy-drama centres on two stoners who landed...

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

Advertisement
The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.