Quirky and unconventional, Guillaume “Run” Renard’s collaboration with anime legends Studio 4ºC is good cinematic fun, but trips over its own untied loose ends.
Halfway through the violently hilarious fever dream that is Mutafukaz, the screen cuts to a wide-pan shot of a chaotic car chase through claustrophobic, packed highways. Seven huge words, bold and red, pop up onscreen as loud, churning dubstep begins to blast out of the cinema’s surround sound speakers. These seven words are, without a doubt, reflective of most of its occupants’ states of mind at that very moment in the film. They are short, curt, and monosyllabic. They elicit a few uneasy laughs from the audience. They read, simply, “What the fuck is even going on?”
Mutafukaz is, without a doubt, a piece of animation that has flown into the film scene completely out of left-field. Its story follows Angelino, a twenty-two-year-old pizza delivery boy who is not like the other boys – he is all but pint-sized, and has a large, round, shiny black head not unlike cartoon bombs of old. Angelino lives in a decrepit hotel room with his best friend Vinz, a skeleton whose skull is topped by a constantly-burning flame a la Ghost Rider. The two lovable slackers go through a life filled with zero-hour contracts, and sluggish apathy; trying their best to keep their heads intact in the underbelly of Dark Meat City – a brick-by-greasy-brick homage to Los Angeles and its long-standing mythic reputation in video game history. But then, two things happen to throw Angelino’s life into disarray. Firstly, he falls in love. And secondly, he starts seeing the shadows of strange, Eldritch beings everywhere he goes.
nothing more than a heap of clichés packed into a plaid miniskirt
From here on out, Mutafukaz becomes a hundred-mile-an-hour thrill ride, both in terms of visual sequences and the plot. The latter is particularly ambitious – within the space of the movie’s first half an hour alone, Guillaume “Run” Renard manages to bombard viewers with multiple subplots, including but not limited to a troupe of magical mystical luchadors, a “master race” of tentacle aliens, a mysterious antagonist with a golden gun who holds the secret of Angelino’s parentage, a barely-disguised comment on Los Angeles gang warfare in the form of an obese machine-gun-toting man who speaks only in Shakespeare quotes, and an entire army of cockroaches who have sworn fealty to Angelino. “What the fuck is even going on?” seems like the understatement of the century by the time those garish red words pop up onscreen. With such a deliciously surreal, almost neo-Dada storyline, it seems almost impossible for the movie not to fail at this point. And yet, somehow, it does.
The biggest flaw in Mutafukaz lies in the fact that it tantalisingly dangles several strings in front of its audience for the better half of the movie, but never truly braids them together into an actual rope. The magical mystical luchadors get their own drawn-out, five-minute introduction sequence, but only receive another five minutes of screentime past that despite their pivotal role in the ending of the movie. Many other characters, too, could be replaced with cardboard cutouts for what little dimension they were given – Angelino’s love interest, Luna, is nothing more than a heap of clichés packed into a plaid miniskirt, and a particularly fervent assassin with an obvious vendetta against Angelino is never truly visited in detail, nor his grudge explained. In the end, viewers are unfortunately left with more questions than answers; the biggest one having resounded throughout the movie from its halfway mark – what the fuck is even going on? And, after thinking about it – what the fuck was the point of half of that?
a brilliant, showy audiovisual spectacle – easy to watch, and equally easy to forget
That is not to say that Mutafukaz is unwatchable. In fact, it is very far from being so. Having Ankama Animation and Studio 4ºC at the artistic helm certainly raises the film’s merit – perhaps at a push, it could even qualify as an urban art-house film to justify its lack of coherence. Angelino, Vinz, and the rest of the film’s eclectic characters are each so uniquely designed that they are distinctive not only within the movie itself, but within the entire sphere of international animation. Dark Meat City, as much as it is a squalid pastiche of cities from games like Grand Theft Auto, has its decrepit streets drawn in such a way that it is somehow impossible not to want to immerse oneself in the setting, even in spite of all the violence and decay. The soundtrack, too, is perfect for the movie – hip-hop and slow-burning dubstep that churns and builds as Angelino receives his own awakening onscreen, before roaring to life all through the film’s excellently animated car chases and action sequences. In fact, it is the moments that require the least consideration, and the least thought about where the plot is going, that are the film’s strengths, making its ultimate lack of a proper storyline almost forgivable.
All in all, Mutafukaz is indeed an enjoyable roller-coaster through West Coast culture, and a bag full of hilarious party tricks that never seems to end. However, like most bags of party tricks, the film does not manage to be any more than a brilliant, showy audiovisual spectacle – easy to watch, and equally easy to forget.
‘Mutafukaz’ will screen at London Film Festival 2017, taking place from 4th to 15th October. Information and tickets here.
Image: Ankama Animation