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by Jay Seaver

"Another gray future."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 36TH ANNUAL BOSTON SCI-FI MARATHON: "Metropia" is the sort of science fiction film that tends to mirror its setting's gray ennui for far too long. It's a risk a filmmaker runs with this sort of dystopia - a bland, repetitive world runs the risk of just being bland and repetitive unless her or she hits a particularly strong vein of absurdity. Director Tarik Saleh eventually finds it, but is it enough?

In the movie's future, the once-great but now interchangeable cities of Europe have all had their transit systems connected, forming a larger community of "Metropia". Roger (voiced by Vincent Gallo) works in a call center, lives in a small apartment with his similarly alienated girlfriend Anna (voiced by Sofia Helin), and lives his life on a repeating cycle until one day, after shampooing his hairless head, he starts to hear voices. This leads him to a couple of strange people - Nina (voiced by Juliette Lewis), the beautiful spokesmodel for the shampoo, and Stefan (voiced by Alexander Skarsgård), who works in a similar cubicle but with a somewhat different job description.

In many ways, the actual story that Roger finds himself caught up in is less important than the world in which it takes place. Even one is not a particular fan of the film should likely offer grudging acknowledgment of the job Saleh and company do of building their run-down, cynical Europe; it's dirty and lived-in, familiar enough to believably be only a generation or two ahead of our world but also filled with some fantastical elements. The character design fits right into that, with too-large heads and unblinking too-large eyes, walking with weird gaits out of a video game. The sense of artificiality gets the right feeling across, even if it's not always a lot of fun to watch.

And while there are occasional moments of sharp black humor, the story is by and large a muddled thing about corporate mind control that often relies entirely too much on coincidence. The hero alternates between passive and bumbling, and while that may be part of what the filmmakers were going for - that like Roger, what we see as our choices actually owe a lot more to mysterious outside forces than our own decisions - it's often off-putting and keeps much of the active portion of the story out of sight. Saleh and his three co-writers do well enough once things get moving that the way things don't fit together isn't obvious, but it's not a tight story.

Still, the telling is all right. There's fine detail in the animation, and the characters are expressive. There's not the sharp break between the low-key protagonists and the more broadly realized single-purpose characters. The voice cast inoffensive, more or less - many of them have reasonably familiar names, but not necessarily the sort that recall distinctive voices. Vincent Gallo and Juliette Lewis, for instance, aren't bad, but aren't the sort of experienced voice actors who know how to compensate for the limited number of facial controls that their character models have.

"Metropia" is what I like to call a break-even movie - it's got a slow start, but does manage to make up for it once things get going. The oddball animation style will keep some involved, but even that's not for everybody.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19558&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/01/11 23:54:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.
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  DVD: 16-Nov-2010



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