This sluggish bundle of stylized anachronisms is intended as a genre-leaping mind puzzle, but even the most patient auds will give up the game long before its drawn-out denouement. Look for a quick move to video.
Set in an unspecified country, in a vaguely 19th-century milieu mixing starched collars and horse-drawn buggies with fluorescent lamps and bulbous, “Brazil”-like machinery, “The Rook” follows by-the-book police detective John Abbott (played by Hal Hartley fave Martin Donovan at his most humorless) in his attempts to unravel a creepy murder case.
A young woman has been found with her head shaved and a strange spiral design painted on her belly. Abbott thinks this indicates some connection with unexplained revolutionaries who are threatening the God-fearing order of wherever this is happening. On his way to unfortunate enlightenment, the copper encounters a weaselly printer, a prickly painter and a slinky doctor straight out of ’40s film noir, with politics and place names giving no further sense of time or geography. Not that anyone will care after the characters mumble their way through the 20th murkily lit interior.
Film school Kafka at its most tedious, pic shows no interest in its people or their world except as an exercise in overall design. And that’s where the talent is, with elaborately detailed sets, clever editing and jazzy chamber music giving viewers something to think about while the story evaporates.