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Bill Plympton’s fans will need disclaimers before settling into his latest feature offering, Revengeance: The animation pioneer didn’t write it, and the characters are not drawn in his usual style. Though his pacing and framing tendencies are evident, this film finds the artist serving the vision of a much less famous animator, Pasadena’s Jim Lujan. Set in a cartoonishly seedy version of California’s Inland Empire, this lowlife tale of bikers and reality-show politicians diverts without quite justifying its presence as a feature, though many fans of both artists will be pleased with what appears to be a happy collaboration.
Animated by Plympton from character designs drawn by Lujan, this is visually a much cruder world than the former usually works in. The style mimics that of an enthusiastic but perhaps untalented eighth-grader who has decided to draw comic books in between perfecting his heavy-metal logo penmanship. Helping make the flat drawings come to life is a thick coating of pockmark-like brushstrokes on everything from faces to asphalt.
The story, too, is something a teenaged devotee of trashy fiction might imagine. A nerdy but skilled bail bondsman, Ron Rosse the One-Man Posse (a character from earlier Lujan tales), has been enlisted to find a teenaged girl, Lana, who recently stole something from the “Inland Emperors” biker gang and burned their hangout to the ground. Rosse is working for a pro wrassler turned senator named Deathface. (French viewers have reportedly likened Deathface to Donald Trump, which is presumably because they’ve never heard of Jesse Ventura.) Like Darth Vader before him, Senator Deathface isn’t content to put one bounty hunter on the case: Three other broadly drawn mercenaries (a Foxy Brown type named Odell, a sumo-sized Japanese man) are competing with Rosse to be the first to get Lana.
(Why does the senator care about those bikers? It turns out their safe contained something that will embarrass him greatly if it comes to light.)
Lana proves to be a capable young woman, but even so, the cat-and-mouse action needs some padding. So Lujan delivers a desert interlude in which our hero is captured by a strange cult and nearly sacrificed by a geezer priest to a god called Zorma. What this has to do with anything is an open question, but it lets Rosse and Lana interact enough to decide they should be on the same team, trying to bring the undeserving senator down.
Occasionally in the film, Plympton fans will see grace notes they suspect he invented (the aborted flight of an accidentally intoxicated bird, say) or absurd scenarios that might have been subjects of one of his early shorts (the monster trucks and mayhem of Death Face Cares, a charity rally meant to burnish his public image). But unlike the surreal surprises found in his best-known work, nothing here is so outlandish or impossible that it demands to be animated, and viewers who aren’t charmed by the visuals will be no more impressed by the caricaturish voice acting, most of which is done by Lujan, putting on one accent after another. Revengeance isn’t likely to leave any viewers angry enough to demand their own big payback. But it’s also not going to leave many begging for more.
Production company: Plymptoons
Voice cast: Jim Lujan, Sara Ulloa Lalo Alcaraz, Kaya Rogue, Geo Brawn
Directors: Bill Plympton, Jim Lujan
Screenwriter-composer: Jim Lujan
Producers: Bill Plympton, Wendy Cong Zhao
Executive producers: Matthew Modine, Adam Rackoff
Editor: Sam Welch
Casting director: Ken Mora
Venue: Woodstock Film Festival
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