“9” is less than divine

Writer-director Shane Acker expands his dystopian vision, with mixed results.

PHOTO COURTESY FOCUS FEATURES

PHOTO COURTESY FOCUS FEATURES

Tony Libera

âÄú9âÄù DIRECTED BY: Shane Acker STARRING: Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly. RATED: PG-13 SHOWING: Area theaters Shane Acker sure is a determined fellow. A weaker man would have crumbled at the mere prospect of four years spent writing, directing and animating a film that clocks in at a grand total of 11 minutes, but not Acker. He put in his time, paid his dues and produced âÄú9,âÄù an animated opus that ultimately garnered a Student Academy Award and a nomination for the actual Oscars. The juice was certainly worth the squeeze, but apparently Acker was still thirsty. With a feature-length expansion of his esteemed short, the young storyteller rides his ambition one step further. But was it one step too far? The tale begins with our hero, the eponymous 9 (Elijah Wood), coming to life in a standard post-apocalyptic wasteland. Apparently, one of the more fascist factions of humankind, ignoring the lessons of âÄúThe TerminatorâÄù franchise, thought it would be a good idea to create sentient robots to aid in the war against their fellow man. The robot uprising is swift and the world looks half-past doomed, but one supremely erudite scientist has mastered the secrets of life and decides to whip up a batch of miniature monsters to save the world. Unfortunately, the way in which the nine âÄústitchpunksâÄù must perform their messianic duty is completely ambiguous and success seems increasingly unlikely due to the roving mechanical beasts hell-bent on destroying them. AckerâÄôs concept is certainly an intriguing one. Everybody loves a nice dystopian jaunt, and the idea of tiny heroes overcoming insurmountable odds has always been a source of human fascination (see: âÄúThe Hobbit,âÄù âÄúThe Little Engine That Could,âÄù Muggsy Bogues). Yet the director never makes us care. What could have been an engaging story about a world lost and the efforts to regain it gives way to an abundance of hyper-stylized action sequences and ornate design. The animation is a highlight (and striking, to be sure), but as the film barrels along at a pace that can only be described as breakneck, the story vanishes behind the smoky veil left by computer-generated explosions and deafening robot shrieks. Not much has actually happened by the end of the film and the eye candy that filled the better part of 81 minutes provides little lasting sustenance. Despite these shortcomings, âÄú9âÄù does possess a few kernels of genuine cool. The textures of the epic backgrounds and the extreme detailing of the minutest features provide a sight to behold. The characters in particular are extremely well-attended; the stitchpunksâÄô fabric looks borderline-real while the antagonists, compiled from scraps of random debris and human garbage, are some of the creepiest in recent memory. The film also boasts an impressive voice cast featuring the likes of John C. Reilly, Christopher Plummer and Oscar-winners Martin Landau and Jennifer Connelly. The actors manage to instill a deep and varied sense of humanity in their respective characters and their collective effort is the only thing that keeps the audience invested in 9 and the gang. Reilly provides a cartoonish whimper thatâÄôs at times comical and wholly endearing while ConnellyâÄôs performance is both understated and well-delivered. Her character, 7, also ends up being one of the more badass females of the animation set. Even though âÄú9âÄù has its moments, it is safe to say that the movie didnâÄôt live up to the hype. But this one can be chalked up to inexperience; after all, this is AckerâÄôs first time on the merry-go-round. DonâÄôt be surprised if his next flick is truly remarkable. 3/5 Stars