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Mercano the Martian

Juan Antin's adult-oriented Argentine animated feature, "Mercano the Martian," a slyly political, frequently antic take on the classic paranoid scenario of a Martian invasion of Earth, is a ray of light from an under-acknowledged subculture of Latin American cinema. Pic should appeal to fans of animation, sci-fi and anti-globalization.

Juan Antin’s adult-oriented Argentine animated feature, “Mercano the Martian,” a slyly political, frequently antic take on the classic paranoid scenario of a Martian invasion of Earth, is a ray of light from an under-acknowledged subculture of Latin American cinema. One of the surprises of the L.A. Latino fest, pic should appeal to fans of animation, sci-fi and anti-globalization. Despite disappointing local B.O. returns in fall ’02, film could find a home in Europe or North America as a midnight movie or on cable, especially Spanish lingo.

Antin, with co-scenarist Lautaro Nunez de Arco and artistic collaborator Ayar B, has cleverly built upon the popular series of shorts about a wandering, somewhat befuddled alien that first aired on local music-oriented tube channels. Mercano, bowling pin-shaped head encased in an oxygen helmet, steps inside a vandalized electronics store (with pic’s credits flashing by on aisles full of big-screen TV monitors). Fleeing from cops who can’t fathom what they’re seeing, the little green man settles into his makeshift subterranean digs, where he’s been able to plug into the Internet and link up with friends back home to convey his plight (told in a hilarious flashback sequence).

Through an on-line connection Mercano makes with a suburban kid named Julian, both enjoy virtual adventures that get short-circuited by Julian’s father, a chief in the portentously-named “Corporation.” The evil execs kidnap Mercano and use his knowledge to produce the Vaporizer, which provides any consumer product on demand. The bitter joke at the center of “Mercano” is that globalization won’t be enough for some companies — they’ll want to monopolize the entire universe.

Antin’s equally brilliant and goofy minimalist cel animation fluidly shifts between the shadowy and threatening new planet and the almost Utopian-looking Mars, but at the heart of the matter are eccentrically, simply drawn characters whose facial features are no more than thin squiggly lines. Mike Judge’s caustic “Beavis and Butt-head” style seems to be a dominant influence, as is the acidic satire of “South Park,” especially in the pic’s embrace of tasteless, blood-drenched ultra-violence as Mercano proves he can be one tough hombre when pushed into a corner.

Flattened backgrounds and iconic imagery complete a defiantly savvy take on the modern world, while the (non-Spanish) Martian voices will remind some Yank viewers of the White Fang and Black Tooth pooch characters in “The Soupy Sales Show.”

Mercano the Martian

Argentina

  • Production: A Distribution Co. release (in Argentina) of a Celestial Pictures presentation of a Malcriados/Universidad de Cine production. (International sales: Malcriados, Buenos Aires.) Produced by Juan Antin. Executive producer, Mario Santos. Directed by Juan Antin. Screenplay, Antin, Lautaro Nunez de Arco.
  • Crew: Camera (Industrias Audiovisuales Argentinas color); music, Roberta Ainstein, Leandro Fresco, Triglocities; supervising art director, animation director, Ayar B; sound (Dolby Digital); supervising sound editor, Martin Litmanovich; animation color and painting, Maria Hellemeyer; 3-D animation, Maximiliano Balbo. Reviewed at L.A. Latino Festival, July 21, 2003. (Also in Berlin and San Sebastian film festivals, and Annecy Animation Festival.) Running time: 72 MIN.
  • With: <B>Voices:</B> Graciela Borges, Roberto Carnaghi, Damian Dreizik, Fabio Alberti, Alejandro Nagy, Queco Gervais, Juan Antin, Ayar B.