It would be one thing if debut writer-director Shane Acker opted to keep his hero ' a rag-doll creation who awakens in a post-apocalyptic Earth to find nothing crawling except a monstrously frightening cat-like robot on the hunt -' chugging along the path of inoffensive earnestness in the new animated film 9. Produced in part by Tim Burton, this zip-up idealist (voiced by Elijah Wood) known only as '9,â?� according to the number on his back, encounters similar creatures, also with assigned digits. None but Nos. 2 (Martin Landau) and 5 (John C. Reilly) treat 9 with any amount of respect, but he apparently either instantly likes them or needs their company enough to risk his and everyone else's 'livesâ?� in a standard hero's journey. His polar opposite, No. 1 (Christopher Plummer), believes 9 is foolhardy and that the best option is to hide. The two clash for the next hour over 'what to doâ?� (as if there's much else going on around these parts) in such a broad, laughably extremist manner that one begins to think the best option for all involved is for them to kill each other already.
But that's not all Acker has in store; he throws the kitchen sink at the last act, including shamelessly aped sequences from Lord of the Rings and WALL-E and a blurry, barely thought out anti-communism message. ('Subjugate them!â?� barks one villain. 'What's that mean?â?� head-scratches his dopey assistant.) Amazingly, within only about an hour and 20 minutes, Acker works 9 into a lather of messy New Age plotting involving a hopelessly complicated plan to save the day with a talisman, cryptic symbols and the soul of humanity.
While 9 discovers (not devises, mind you) this nonsense, his numeric comrades have somehow managed to secure a giant cannon and get it aimed at the problem. (This all happens offscreen, yet 9 doesn't blink an eye when he returns to find his friends have upgraded from sticks with lamps on the tips to weapons of mass destruction.) In comes 9, shouting his sudden fighters down with his own soulful plan. When, as an audience member, you find yourself begging them to turn that cannon the other way and blow the main character to smithereens, there's a serious problem.
It should be noted that this film was unwisely screened without the 3-D technology that was clearly built into it. How that could magically transform a one-dimensional plot into something resembling a decent story is unclear ' though I can imagine it would heighten the whiz-bang factor ' but I can say that the visuals are extraordinary and the hard PG-13 action is handled capably. But I could say the same for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ' company among which Shane Acker and 9, for all their ambition, have earned their place.