Here’s a unique and uniquely exasperating addition to the heist genre.
“Ruben Brandt, Collector” globe-trots from international art museum to international art museum, scattering insanely high-speed chases throughout a busy mystery involving a shadowy art therapist, haunted by childhood memories and terrible dreams in which he’s attacked by figures from famous works of art.
Every few seconds, and sometimes every second, a new visual name-drop hits the screen. Here, a rip-off of Munch’s “The Scream”; there, Warhol’s dueling Elvises; here, there and everywhere, characters sport noses and ears, in varying numbers, akin to those found in Picasso.
The Budapest-based filmmaker Milorad Krstic makes his animated feature debut. In many ways, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” (collector refers to “thief”) impresses with its sheer density of referencing and detail. The visual landscape combines digital animation with two-dimensional, old-school lines. The story and the milieu, with its dizzying death-defiance and leggy cat burglars, recall heist and spy movies of the 1960s and ’70s. It sounds fun. For a while it’s clever. And then it becomes a joyless, protracted exercise.
A lot of what’s wrong with “Ruben Brandt, Collector” relates to what I don’t love about a lot of contemporary live-action movies: a numbing relentlessness and a casual brutality. Krstic opens with a bang: after a cliffhanging nightmare, Ruben awakens from his first bad dream, on a speeding train, and the movie soon segues into a car chase through the streets of Paris, with everything a little rougher, a little wilder, than the average “Mission: Impossible” sequel.
Then, suddenly, the pursuer (an American private detective) and the pursued (the purring, unstoppable cat burglar in high heels) find themselves in a nightclub. Dance break! Then it’s back to the pursuit.
Ruben’s neuroses lead back to some familial secrets, buried too long. The sheer geography and velocity of the capers offer plenty of diversion. The hit-and-run jokes, or name-drops, keep coming: When private eye Mike Kowalski’s knife collection is shown, briefly, to include a knife from Polanski’s “Knife in the Water” next to Rambo’s weapon from “First Blood,” you might say to yourself: “That’s funny.” That’s not the same thing as actually laughing, but it’s something.
“Art is the key to the troubles in the mind,” Ruben tells his patients. A satisfying heist movie, animated or live-action, requires more selectivity and less clutter than this one. The movie dashes by door after door, but it lacks the key.
‘RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR’
MPAA rating: R (for nude images and some violence)
Running time: 1:34
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