"A Scanner Darkly"
Directed by Richard Linklater.
Written by Richard Linklater. Based on the novel by Philip
Starring the voices of Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody
Harrelson and Winona Ryder.
Release Year: 2006
Review Date: 7/11/06
My friend Ross and I went to our respective
gyms before meeting up right at game time for a freebie showing of
"A Scanner Darkly" in downtown Bethesda. After checking out
the trailer for this one, I was all over it; Keanu Reeves in another
"Matrix"-like sci-fi cartoon thriller? Yeah!
The movie captures the promise of the
trailer initially, but it faded after a strong first 30 minutes.
Keanu--at least, the voice of Keanu--stars as Robert Arctor, an
undercover detective in an Orange County seven years from now whose
alias is "Fred." Fred, who wears a "scramble suit" by day to
alter his appearance (the film's coolest animation, by far), is the
lead investigator in a case to crack down on Substance D, a drug
that has about 20% of the current population to thank for its
popularity...Fred's boss, "Hank" (another undercover detective),
doesn't know who Fred really is and asks Fred to do some research
on...well, Robert Arctor.
Still with me?
Robert hangs out with some shady folks,
including a guy named Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), a psychotic named
Freck (Rory Cochrane, from "CSI: Miami"), a flameout addict named
Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Robert's coke addict girlfriend, Donna
(Winona Ryder). Maybe this is why he's under investigation?
Or is it something bigger?
The setup of this near future is brought to
you by author Philip K. Dick, whom Hollywood has found a hearty
source of material since he's the brains behind all of the
following: "Total Recall",
"Minority Report" and the little-seen "Impostor."
Writer/director Richard Linklater, who has been busy of late (the
"Before Sunset", "School of
Rock"), does great work with the script in "A Scanner Darkly",
especially early on, giving us an interesting world in which his
cops and addicts operate, mixed with just fantastic dialogue between
his principals. Downey Jr. is electric as always, Harrelson is
hilarious, and Reeves has, is, and will forever be able to play the
smooth laid-back character that he is portraying here better than
anyone. (Hey, do one thing and do it well, right?) The
animation is cool, even if it begins to wear off on you after a
while...the decision to make the film this way is an interesting
one, since it is not like the sets and the "special effects" would
have been all that hard to do in the first place, especially if you
take away any of the scenes with the scramble suits.
And that is what began to consume my
thoughts halfway through this thing; is the animation just a
gimmick, and where the hell did the interesting story go?
Sure, some laughs do surface, but the main hook featuring Robert,
his friends, and how they will all get him in trouble never really
gets you, or more correctly, it never really got ME. The movie
leans heavily on Reeves and his character's job-based addiction
later on and the visions he starts to suffer through; you learn more
about the real investigation but you don't really know for sure if
you care! Ross and I were talking after the movie; I think my
mistake was that after that initial setup, I was thinking big things
about where this movie could go, and because I got myself too high
on the potential the film was just not able to meet it.
By the time it was over, I realized that "A
Scanner Darkly" was something that I really wanted to see but
ultimately was just an okay film. It certainly will not be
something that I want to see again, but it can be recommended
because of its unique presentation style and the Downey Jr.
performance; otherwise, it's no more interesting than "Paycheck" but
with better actors. I wonder which Dick story will be ripped
off by Hollywood next?
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard