We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

A Scanner Darkly is based on a Philip K. Dick novel, so you expect it to ask a certain number of Big Questions. The biggest, of course, is this: Does rotoscoping render Keanu Reeves any more tolerable? Well, if there was ever an actor whose screen presence could benefit from the animation technique’s characteristically jumpy outlines, it’s the man who will be forever Neo. In Richard Linklater’s latest, he plays Bob Arctor, one of a group of burnouts hopelessly addicted to the paranoia-inducing Substance D. Bob, it turns out, is also Fred, the federal agent assigned to monitor these dopers in the hope of making a bust higher up the ladder—not Donna (Winona Ryder), Bob’s dealer and girlfriend, but maybe her supplier. Even Fred’s superiors don’t know his real identity, because he always meets with them while wearing a “scramble suit,” which constantly shuffles random facial features, clothing, and hairstyles to grant the wearer total anonymity. That Fred is basically spying and reporting on himself—and that he might be cracking up from the effects of his job-related Substance D addiction—sets the stage for a freakout of epic proportions. The novel was published in 1977, but the story, with its themes of pharmacological conspiracies and mass surveillance, seems eerily contemporary. Although Dick’s work is infamous for being bastardized by Hollywood, Linklater’s script adheres quite closely to the source material. The director tends to make talky talkies, and he perfectly handles the author’s mile-a-minute druggiespeak—delivered most notably by Robert Downey Jr. as psychotic chatterbox Jim Barris. Talking far less is Reeves, who seems to have mastered his craft to the point where he can now say “whoa” without uttering a single syllable. Besides livening up the actor—and his clothes—a bit, the rotoscoping doesn’t do too much whiz-bang stuff here. (OK, there are the alien-looking insects Barris tends to hallucinate.) Indeed, the film’s look is initially a distracting novelty. But a slightly skewed, 2-D perspective fits nicely with the drug-addled surrealism and concentric circles of the narrative. The outlines wiggle; the characters ramble. The hypnotic effect is that those animated people on-screen become less like sketched-in, questionably talented movie stars and more like the paranoid androids Dick suggests we’ve all become. Forget Superman Returns—this mind-altering fusion of image and word is the real cinematic comic book of the summer. —Jason Powell