A Scanner Darkly (Warner Independent Pictures, R)

The paranoiac overtones and faux-trippy imagery seem to cater to an audience other than me, as it all seemed forced and generally irritating to someone who was not high or stupid (or both).

 

Philip K. Dick’s classic sci-fi novels have been fodder for many films over the years—from Blade Runner to Total Recall, Minority Report to Paycheck—to varying degrees of success. Dick is a singular talent, and not every filmmaker can tap into his mentality as well as is needed to produce a good film from his source material. The infinitely talented Richard Linklater seems a good choice to tackle the work of Dick, as Linklater has hardly made a misstep in his career. Perhaps it is a tribute to the incomparable inventiveness of Dick’s stories that Linklater fails in his attempts to wade into Dick’s waters.

The work from Dick’s massive back catalogue is A Scanner Darkly, a story of a paranoid futuristic police state (is there any other sort in Dick’s fiction?) where two out of every ten civilians are picked by the government to spy on the other eight. Identity is a major issue here, as it is in Dick’s other work, and the spies wear “scramble suits” to disguise their identities, even from their employees. The events of A Scanner Darkly involve a reluctant spy named Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) who is assigned to spy on his friends (including Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane) and himself, who are all suspected drug dealers and users.

Linklater uses the same rotoscoping technique that he used in 2001’s Waking Life here, which involves the filming of live actors more or less like usual, and then having animators go over the footage after the fact to make it an animated film. The technique added a lot to Waking Life, which took place in a dream and thereby benefited from the freedom combined with reality that rotoscoping allows. I’m not sure that it was necessary here, as it does not really add anything to the film, aside from the cool-looking scramble suit, which would have been very difficult to create in a live action film. Most of the acting is crappy—Harrelson and Cochrane are way over the top, and only Downey Jr. is a success as an actor in this film. The paranoiac overtones and faux-trippy imagery seem to cater to an audience other than me, as it all seemed forced and generally irritating to someone who was not high or stupid (or both). It would seem like matching Linklater’s inventiveness with Dick’s would be a great collaboration (well, sort of, as Dick has been dead for over 20 years), but Linklater’s lack of actual invention points to an ugly possibility: Linklater might be running out of ideas.

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