Style battles substance in the French animated sci-fi/action film ``Renaissance," and if the results are visually a knock out, it's a split decision overall. Stark eye candy of the first order, the film is saddled with the oldest story this side of ``Blade Runner." Still, comic-book fanboys and graphic designers with time to kill should feel no shame in checking this one out.
``Renaissance" has been filmed using some combination of motion-capture, rotoscoping, and many cartons of Gauloises, resulting in a 2054 Paris reduced to dystopian black and white. Run a frame from ``Sin City" through a copy machine with the contrast set on high and you'll come close to what the film looks like: liquid pools of shadows, harsh lighting, edges you could shave with. It's the characters' eyes that are dull. The screenplay, too.
Ilona Tasuiev (the voice of Romola Garai, overdubbing the original French performance by Virginie Mery) is a young researcher at the omniverous Avalon corporation, whose motto -- ``We're on your side . . . for life" -- probably could have used more focus testing. She's kidnapped by villains unknown and hard-boiled police captain Karas (Daniel Craig) is put on the case. His only leads are Ilona's bad-girl big sister Bislane (Catherine McCormack), Avalon CEO Dellenbach (Jonathan Pryce), and a certain Dr. Muller (Ian Holm), who left the company decades earlier under a mysterious cloud. If you've seen any sci-fi movies from the last 40 years, you know better than to bet on the CEO.
If ``Blade Runner" was an old Bogart movie on Ecstasy, ``Renaissance" is ``Blade Runner" as a brand-new coloring book, and you're not invited to bring your crayons (except in one sequence that, oddly, involves crayons). The star of the film is probably not director Christian Volckman -- and certainly none of the cast, whose line-readings are on the level of a decent anime -- but graphic artist Marc Miance, whose original visual concept informs every shot.
Especially impressive is his future Paris, in which a massive post-industrial exoskeleton has been welded on to the City of Light like a tumor that has outgrown its host. There's a lot of rain here too, because it streaks the windows nicely and because it looked good when Ridley Scott did it 24 years ago.
The filmmakers use focal planes interestingly -- one character talks as another is seen in a reflection, that sort of thing -- but the gimmick exposes a disconnect that's only partly intentional. When Karas and Bislane finally kiss, it feels like plastic parts sliding against each other. If this were a live-action movie, we'd be groaning at the story line but grateful for the contact. Instead, ``Renaissance" is a comic book -- mint condition, double-bagged -- that leaves you impressed only with its pristine hollowness.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.