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

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

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.