A man (Mark Keller) wakes with a cut head on the Hollywood hills, with a dead cop lying beside him. The cop's been shot in the head and the man, suffering from amnesia, assumes he's a cop killer. He takes the cop's car and flees the scene of the crime.

Finding the cop's address, the man drives there in the hope of finding overnight shelter from the incessant rain. Unfortunately he's greeted by a wife, kid, family dog and several cops, all of whom are gathered to hold a surprise birthday party in the cop's honour.

The man scarpers with the gun-toting cops giving chase, escaping in a car. Speeding away, he receives a call from a mysterious man on his cellphone. Per the conversation, the man learns that he is a private detective called Ruben.

He traces his own office and visits it in search of his own identity. However, secretary Samantha (Kristina Negrete) doesn't recognise the man as Ruben and, when he leaves the office confused, he is alarmed to receive a call on his cellphone - Ruben's cellphone - from Samantha, informing him/Ruben that David Hudson had just been in the office. The man asks Samantha to leave Hudson's file on her desk, advising that he'll call in later to read it.

That night, the man breaks into the office and steals Hudson's file. Now believing himself to be Hudson, he finds his address in the file and races round there for more clues as to who he is. He finds several months' worth of unopened mail and four new messages on his answerphone, all from a rather desperate-sounding Angela (Bettina Devin).

Hudson is about to return Angela's call when the sultry Susan (Victoria Ryan O'Toole) announces her presence, leading him into the shower for a spot of sucking and fucking.

Afterwards, Hudson receives a call on his cellphone: it's Susan, in the other room, thinking that she's talking to Ruben. She tells him she has Hudson, in his apartment! She then makes a second call and gives the same message to a mystery man, but before Hudson can beat the identity out of her, a helicopter appears at the apartment window and two assailants open fire on the pair.

Hudson sends Susan packing and flees his pursuers, taking Ruben's file on him with him. Someone wants Hudson dead, but he has no idea who or why. He can't even remember who he is, and gradually begins to think it may be better not knowing - women he frequents label him as sadistic, he owns books on the Marquis De Sade in his apartment all of which he now finds extremely disconcerting. Hudson's next call is to junkie Angela, who encourages him to chain and whip her. He refuses, preferring much to her surprise to tenderly make love to her. He stays with her overnight and, the following morning, reveals to her that he has lost his memory. She seems sympathetic to his cause but this is film noir, and nothing and nobody are necessarily what they seem.

So on to the next people in Ruben's file for more clues about his background. Hudson visits Mrs Lopez, an elderly lady who gives him verbal abuse before slamming the door in his face and blaming him for her daughter's death. Then there's a mobster, who finds Hudson equally repulsive and has his henchman throw him out on his backside.

One thing seems to be certain: Hudson was a bastard before his amnesia kicked in. But a visit to his old doctor, Dr Kaplanski (Roger Jackson) suddenly confuses the matter by suggesting Hudson may not be the man's identity after all

Hudson then determines to investigate Ruben closer, in order to solve his own mystery. All the while, cop Riley (also Roger Jackson) is on Hudson's tail, determined to crack a murder case

Taking all the conventions of classic film noir - dark, predominantly night-set set-pieces, constant rain, lazy jazz music, femme fatales, laconic protagonist narration - FILM NOIR certainly lives up to it's title. It ticks all the above boxes without ever feeling contrived in doing so, while ensuring the plot is dense with twists, double-crosses and intrigue. Even the very final scene is typical of this genre.

The vocal performances in this 3D animation exercise are strong and charismatic throughout, while D Jud Jones' script is rife with hard-bitten dialogue punctuated occasionally by unexpected bouts of tourettes.

Although steeped in the style of classic noir such as THE BIG SLEEP and THE MALTESE FALCON, FILM NOIR echoes the likes of SIN CITY and THE SPIRIT more closely, with it's monochrome animation peppered by the odd flourishes of red for blood. It's also quick to assert itself as a modern take on the genre, the Multiplex at the start of the film showing a double-bill of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and WORLD TRADE CENTER.

The mystery angle of the film is well set-up and not as confusing as the above synopsis probably reads. It's basically a race for Hudson to find his identity in order to discover who's out to kill him, with a few sex scenes thrown in among the intrigue and violence.

Fast-paced and often visually stunning, the film throws in references to the Internet and snuff porn alongside it's obvious homages to the films of the forties that it takes it's title from. It's an interesting blend, along with the graphic nudity and gunplay, and makes for an intriguing whole. The animation is largely terrific, benefiting from striking 3D visuals and superb black-and-white compositions. Some of the anatomical illustrations are at times clunky, and the occasional action looks more like a PC game than a movie, but thankfully this never occurs when Hudson's buxom girlfriends are getting naked

The film is presented uncut in anamorphic 1.77:1 and looks superb. Images are sharp and stable throughout, with great definition of blacks at all times.

The English audio track is available in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both are superb, evenly balanced affairs. A nice animated main menu leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

Extras begin with an interesting, and originally approached 20-minute documentary entitled "The History of Film Noir". I thought this may have been a glossary of the genre itself, but instead it focuses on the film. It's a novel mixture of text information interspersed with test footage, rough sketches, alternate colour scenes and so on. Best of all, it features the original teaser trailer and the first 15 minutes of the film in 2D.

Next up is an incredibly detailed interview with scripter/co-director Jones. He speaks to two cameras about how he never wanted to make an animated film initially, casting problems, the importance of the film's impressive score, the technical issues of production and more. It's an excellent, revealing 32-minute chat.

4 minutes of audio recording footage follows, including cast members purring their lines into studio microphones and, even better, Keller singing the title theme tune. Finally there's a 90-second trailer that's different, and slightly less graphic, to the one mentioned above. FILM NOIR comes highly recommended.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Optimum Home Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review