September 20th, 2009

A SCANNER DARKLY (2006) **

Films based on the works of science fiction author Phillip K. (Blade Runner) Dick are a tricky lot.  Sometimes you get a great movie like Total Recall.  But for every Minority Report, there’s at least one Screamers.  A Scanner Darkly curiously enough falls somewhere in between.

 

Keanu Reeves stars as an undercover cop who wears a chameleonic poncho to hide his identity.  When he removes the contraption, he moonlights as a low rent drug dealer who hangs around a scummy house with Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, and Woody Harrelson all day.  Keanu is taping everything that goes on in the house to get the goods on all the druggie tenants, but little does he realize that he’s actually becoming an addict himself.

 

A Scanner Darkly was directed by Richard (Slacker) Linklater and was animated in the same style as his Waking Life, where animators basically just drew over a live action film.  This aesthetic makes the movie stand out from the rest of the pack but the novelty wears out it’s welcome rather fast.  While the performances are all excellent, I found the animation to be kinda distracting and it ultimately takes something away from the actors.

 

Another thing that was disappointing about the movie was the conspicuous lack of anything science fictiony.  Sure, those ever-changing ponchos were cool but that was about it.  Although the movie takes place “in the future” there is hardly anything futuristic to it.  You’d think the animators would’ve been able to draw in some ray guns or flying cars or something.  Uh-uh.  Most of the flick unfortunately is devoted to losers getting stoned out of their gourd rambling on incessantly about God knows what.  I guess that’s what you get when you hire the guy who did Dazed and Confused to direct your Sci-Fi movie.

DARK WOODS (2009) ** ½

Susan (Tracy Coogan from Zombie Honeymoon) is fighting a losing battle with cancer.  After some aggressive chemo treatments, Susan’s husband Henry (screenwriter John Muscanero) decides to take her away from it all by going to their remote cabin in the woods.  Their relaxation is short lived once Susan has a bad spell and slips into a coma.  Through a set of somewhat contrived circumstances, a little Lolita wannabe named Alicia (Mary Kate Wiles) ends up staying at the cabin.  It doesn’t take long for Alicia to start flirting with Henry.  She even takes to jumping on a trampoline at one point; which as we all know is the ultimate act of seduction.  Henry more or less encourages her slutty behavior cuz he hasn’t gotten laid since his wife got sick.  Just when Henry gets all horny and makes a play for the pubescent poontang, Susan wakes up and ruins everything. 

 

It wouldn’t be fair to divulge what happens in the third act.  Director John Escobedo takes his time to establish his characters and their respective dilemmas, so spoiling it here for you now would do his cautious pacing a great disservice.  The film really moves at a deliberate speed and I’ll give Escobedo points for having the courage to stick to his guns all the way through to the bleak conclusion.  On the other hand, the slow moving plot also diffuses the suspense somewhat.  While the pacing works to flesh out the characters, it conversely prevents the film from gaining any real momentum.   

 

Muscanero wrote himself a decent enough script, but I think the flick would’ve been better served had somebody else played his role.  The film pretty much rests on his shoulders for most of it’s running time and he just didn’t have the chops necessary to keep you invested in his character.  Wiles is also kinda one-note as the jailbait Jezebel.  At least her character is unpredictable enough to keep you watching to see what she’ll do next.

 

Hands down the best performance of the flick came from Tracy Coogan.  She makes the most of her limited screen time and creates a character that’s wholly three-dimensional and completely sympathetic.  It’s hard to portray a character that is so frail and yet so strong at the same time, but she did a great job.  Too bad she spends so much of the dang movie in a catatonic state.  The always reliable James (Blackwater Valley Exorcism) Russo also puts in a memorable turn as the grim-faced sheriff. 

 

Patient viewers with a predilection for character driven psychological dramas will want to seek out Dark Woods, no questions asked.  It pretty much depressed the Hell out of me, but I consider that to be a strength rather than a weakness.  Although the film is a little too spotty to give it a wholehearted recommendation, I have to admit that Dark Woods presents us with one of the stranger love triangles filmdom has ever seen.  Because of that (and the excellent performance by Coogan), you should probably check it out.

 

If you want to know more about Dark Woods, I’d advise you to head on over to http://www.darkwoodsmovie.com/DARK_WOODS.html.  And if you’re like me and can’t get enough of Tracy Coogan, you should check out www.tracycoogan.com, your one stop spot for all things Tracy.