Tooning out

‘Renaissance’ wastes great animation on lame script

Christian Volckman’s “Renaissance” takes great strides in animation technology, and emerges with the coolest-looking film since “Sin City.” Unfortunately, while the filmmakers were playing around on their computers, someone must have scrounged a couple of rotting old stories out of the rubbish and turned them into the film’s screenplay. It’s easily the year’s creakiest job of writing (as well as translating; the film originated in France).

“Renaissance” begins in Paris with a disgruntled police officer, Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig), so single-minded and obsessed that he can barely speak to any other human beings, much less summon the will to care about anything but his job. It’s the year 2054, and a 22 year-old scientist (voiced by Romola Garai) is kidnapped. The crime involves a massive cover-up, the details of which are either too murky or too silly to matter. The movie presents them with stone-faced seriousness and not the faintest hint of parody or tribute.

Of course, there’s a girl, the kidnapped scientist’s cynical sister, Bislane (voiced by Catherine McCormack), who frequents dodgy nightclubs. Her job is to berate the cop at every turn; his job is to make sure she stays behind “where it’s safe” every time he goes into action. They’re made for each other.

Not even Ian Holm’s voice — emanating from a revered geneticist — lends any warmth to the proceedings. Jonathan Pryce voices one of the movie’s bad guys, a snaky corporate figure, causing havoc from his high-rise office. Ironic, since Pryce played the quintessential anti-Orwellian in “Brazil” (1985).

Like “The Polar Express” (2004), the film was made with “motion capture,” a system in which a computer reads hundreds of sensors taped to a human actor and renders them as a digital actor. “The Polar Express” stopped there, and wound up with humanlike, but ultimately creepy and soulless figures, populating its supposedly cheery Christmas story.

Instead of attempting to build on this idea, the “Renaissance” filmmakers took a step backward; they drained the color and detail from their figures, and made it into a Will Eisner-like, black-and-white comic strip, flush with deep shadows and high-contrast city lights. It’s like an animated version of one of cinematographer John Alton’s classic films noir (“T-Men,” etc.)

The characters’ movements still seem vaguely human, but now they’re clearly cartoons. However, no amount of technical innovation or aesthetic coolness can make this pile of mush interesting. As it drags on through its interminable, 105 somber minutes, it begins to look less like a movie, and more like a nap-worthy Power Point presentation.

Movie review

Renaissance ?½

Starring the voices of Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Romola Garai, Ian Holm and Jonathan Pryce

Written by Alexandre de la Patelliere and Matthieu Delaporte

Directed by Christian Volckman

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 45 minutes

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