The near future. Bob Arctor is deep undercover, investigating a Los Angeles drug den. At the office, he wears a scramble-suit, a constantly shifting camouflage of clothes and faces which ensures that even his fellow officers don't know who he really is. He's not too sure himself: addicted to a drug known only as Substance D and dangerously involved with Winona Ryder's cokehead waif, Arctor is both criminal and copper. But who is investigating whom? It's all rather confusing really.
Science fiction guru Philip K Dick has inspired dozens of movies, from the classic Blade Runner right down to inconsequential pap like Paycheck and The Impostor. However, his ideas tend to be jumping-off points for magpie directors with their own stories to tell. Until now, no-one has attempted a really faithful movie version of Dick's writing. Ironic then, that a cartoon starring Keanu Reeves should be the first to pull it off. Director Richard Linklater, using the same dreamlike rotoscoping animation he showcased in Waking Life, sticks closely to the spirit of Dick's paranoid tale.
"EVENTUALLY MAKES A QUEASY KIND OF SENSE"
Faithfulness can be a double-edged sword, though. No matter how startling its visuals, A Scanner Darkly is inescapably a film about stoners lazing around and talking nonsense. Keanu is fine, in his usual bewildered way, but he has a hard time competing with Robert Downey Jr, on brilliant form as a paranoid motormouth loon. The film eventually makes a queasy kind of sense, but Linklater's predilection for long takes and improvisation can transform Keanu's nightmare into a bit of a trudge. Still, it's never less than incredibly beautiful to watch.