A review of another Tribeca Film Festival flick from Jonathan Chang of the Top 5 Film podcast.

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Screengrab from the animated movie Metropia showing depressed denizens on the subwayMetropia

It’s funny to think that a particular plot could become its very own genre. Metropia demonstrates this by lifting just about every theme popular to the science-fiction genre and mixing it with the most standard of plots, producing one of the dullest, most repetitive and uninteresting films to ever land in the space. To think that this film was utilizing a cutting-edge animation technique, and still managed to fail on almost every level, continues to baffle me.

Metropia begins its Orwellian story by introducing us to Roger (Vincent Gallo), who lives a typically dull, repetitive and uninteresting life. He has trouble connecting with his girlfriend, Anna (Sofia Helin), and since the story gives her little to no development, I assume that this is what drives Roger to seek out a particular bottle of shampoo, one that features the image of a striking blonde. Of course, this was the only bottle of shampoo available to him in the shower, so perhaps it was lack of options that got Roger into trouble. Now before you begin taking stabs at what happens next, let me ruin your fantasies completely by telling you that the shampoo proves to be some sort of mind control device for the powers-that-be — evil, foreign capitalists who are probably heads of corporations, the government, or both.

If you’re still here and care to know more, Roger’s shampoo-induced mind-control leads him down to the subway systems. (Aha! That’s a why it’s called Metropia! Because it’s a dystopia, and there’s a metro system!) In the tunnels, he meets a mysterious woman, Nina, played by the always-memorable Juliette Lewis. It’s from here that Roger spirals down his rabbit hole, thrust into a series of events that find him becoming the hero, the victim, and the culprit. Without ruining the film, I will say that Metropia sports one of the most lackluster, unsatisfying, ‘what was the point of telling this story’ endings ever committed to the silver screen, despite the potential to end on a more interesting, ‘own worst enemy’ note.

What’s important to mention is the animation technique employed by Egyptian-Swedish director/television-producer/animator/publisher/journalist/famous-Swedish-graffiti-artist Tarik Saleh. (Seriously, does anybody stick to one occupation or art form anymore?) It’s a photo-real technique that utilizes still images of regular people and digitally manipulates them, creating smooth animation. The effect is part computer-generated animation, part stop-motion photography. It moves a bit like claymation but feels very flat, giving it a layer of creepiness, which is enhanced by both a mostly-gray palette and hyper-stylized renditions of human beings. All the characters have oversized heads and eyes, making them look like puppets, even if their features all seem very human. It’s a bold stylistic choice that doesn’t quite help the film because it is so distancing. Despite being someone who appreciates animation on many levels — hand-drawn, computer-generated, stop-motion, you name it — I could not connect with any of these hyper-stylized “people,” and even if the vocal performances by Gallo, Lewis, Stellan Skarsgård, Alexander Skarsgård, and German actor and cult star Udo Kier were all above-average, the characterization and design completely turned me off.

Even with such strong technical efforts, Metropia fails to galvanize any of its thoughts into a cohesive, worthwhile story. We’ve seen this particular look and feel before in The Matrix and countless other modern knockoffs. And personally, I don’t think audiences need to see another person’s version of George Orwell’s 1984. It renders its characterizations completely inert by drenching it with over-designed characters and a predictable, slowly-paced story. All of these aspects combined proved for an experience that found me checking my watch repeatedly, and that’s never a good sign. Metropia is a classic case of form over function, and a trip to a bleak future you don’t need to take, if only because you’ve seen it all before.

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Metropia can be found online and in the flesh a number of ways through the Tribeca Film Festival, including on demand. Jonathan Chang is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @jonniechang and visit his website, No One Man.