Animated crime thriller, rated R, The Screen, 4 chiles

Haunted by nightmares in which he’s attacked by famous works of art, Ruben Brandt is in serious need of some art therapy. Ironically, that’s his profession: art therapist. In Hungarian artist and director Milorad Krstic’s eye-popping, fast-paced, and exciting animated feature, Brandt comes up with a solution: He’ll hire professional thieves to steal the paintings based on the belief that owning them will make his nightmares go away. But then, somebody once said something about the best-laid plans.

Krstic’s dazzling first feature is a nonstop thrill ride crammed full of references to great works of art from past to present, including work by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Gauguin, van Gogh, Botticelli, Manet, and Hopper. In a sweeping story spanning the globe, Brandt — now branded as a master criminal known as The Collector — and his plucky band of thieves elude the authorities in their quest to acquire the paintings assaulting his psyche.

Brandt (the even-tempered voice of Iván Kamarás) is a likable sort of chap. He’s not driven by greed or even so much a desire to possess art. Rather, he seeks to free himself from torment. He successfully masterminds a series of heists at the Tate, the Uffizi Gallery, the State Hermitage Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Louvre, to name a few. All the while, the price on his head swells enormously as he’s pursued by gangsters and bounty hunters, racing across Paris, Rome, Venice, New York, and St. Petersburg.

That’s the thin, bare-knuckle plot. Where Ruben Brandt, Collector really comes alive is in its blend of computer and hand-drawn animation, its noirish and vaguely Picasso-esque visual style, and its zany and phantasmagoric set pieces. Every frame is pure eye candy. Brandt can’t escape his tormentors. He duels with Warhol’s gun-toting Elvis, gets mauled by the black cat in Manet’s Olympia, is nearly choked to death by the flowing hair of Botticelli’s Venus, and gets mugged by a figure from Hopper’s Nighthawks. Krstic relies on a near monochromatic palette for the most of the film, using pops of color — in a character’s tie, say, or in paintings bursting with it — to deliver a one-two punch and illustrate the line between Brandt’s world and the vitality of the artworks that plague him.

The allusions and homages come thick and fast, but you don’t need to be an art aficionado to appreciate Ruben Brandt. There are plenty of iconic images that are sure to be recognizable to most. But art lovers in particular will delight in spotting as much as they can. Krstic’s film is aimed at an adult audience, but, really, this is a movie for the child in the adult. It isn’t particularly deep, nor does it take itself too seriously. It’s a delirious vision of an obsessed collector that explores how paintings can take on a life of their own in one’s imagination — in Brandt’s case, treacherously so. — Michael Abatemarco 

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