Self-discovery is a dangerous business in “Film Noir,” a stylish, sexually explicit adult animation that plays like “The Big Sleep” meets “Fritz the Cat.” Using 3-D animation techniques, the toon cleverly captures the conventions of the eponymous genre and transfers them to graphic form with panache. Witty Los Angeles-set tale of a beleaguered gumshoe, seductive femme fatales, a ruthless millionaire and shady plastic surgeon should put debuting writer-helmer D. Jud Jones and co-director-chief animator Risto Topaloski on everyone’s wanted list. Potential cult item could play arthouses and college campuses worldwide, with a killer afterlife on the tube and DVD.

From its opening frames, the pic updates the archetypal aspects of B&W film noir to the present day, with color highlights for things like ruby red lips and fingernails, yellow crime tape and orange prison jumpsuits. Extreme high and low angles abound, amid all the moody chiaroscuro. A melancholy sax ruminates on the soundtrack while the convoluted plot unfolds via v.o. narration by an antihero with nothing left to lose.

Film starts with the initially unnamed, cynical protag (voiced by Mark Keller, who also provides the jazzy score) recovering consciousness under the Hollywood sign and finding a dead cop lying nearby. The only clues to the lead character’s identity are a cell phone and some keys. When sirens start to howl, he makes a run for it.

Protag’s search for himself encompasses numerous sexual encounters with lusty, duplicitous babes, beginning with a next-door neighbor who sells him out to hired assassins after some steamy lovemaking in the shower. Bedroom action and adult dialogue should earn pic an R rating.

Contempo setting lets the helmers have fun with modern technology, including speed dial, the Internet, and top-of-the-line weaponry. Pop art (particularly the work of Roy Lichtenstein), graphic novels and Japanime are all clear influences. In addition to 3-D animation, the pic also incorporates photos of modern-day L.A. processed with filters and photoshopped, HD-shot backgrounds.

L.A.-based Jones — a pseudonym for Serbian expat Srdjan Penezic, who’s spent 20 years Stateside helming commercials and corporate videos — and S.F.-based producer Miodrag Certic contracted with Risto Topaloski’s Belgrade animation studio Dosije-Awe. Though produced via U.S.-based Easy E Films, the pic is the first feature toon to use animation facilities anywhere in former Yugoslavia.

Production team of 10 young tooners completed the project is only 18 months. Skywalker Sound provided the rich and detailed sound mix. Per Jones, the mix cost as much as the rest of the project, but it’s money well spent.

Many of the pic’s voice cast essay multiple characters, with vet Roger Jackson taking on a record 12, notably a gruff black police detective and an idiosyncratic doctor.

Film Noir

  • Production: An Easy E Films presentation, in association with RTS, Ministry of Culture Serbia, City of Belgrade, BS Group. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Miodrag Certic. Executive producers, Certic, D. Jud Jones. Co-producers, Miodrag Janjusevic, Oliver Smith, Nikola Zivanovic. Directed by D. Jud Jones, Risto Topaloski. Screenplay, Jones.
  • Crew: Camera, (B&W/color, DV-to-35mm), Radan Popovic; editor, Namub Elephantine, Andrej Marichich; music, Mark Keller; art director, Raymond Penn; animation director, Topaloski; sound (Dolby Digital); supervising sound editor, Christopher D. Barnett; sound designer, Luke Dunn Gelmuda; lead animators, Jelena Jovanovic, Verica Pajkovski, Ivan Pejkic, Topaloski; animators, Nemanja Gavrilovic, Petar Lalic, Ivan Pesic, Nebojsa Letkovic, Kristijian Hranisavljevic. Reviewed at Motovun Film Festival, Croatia, July 25, 2007. (Also in Annecy, Toronto film festivals.) Running time: 97 MIN.
  • With: <b>Voices:</b> Mark Keller, Roger Jackson, Elaine Clark, Jeff Atik, Kristina Negrete, Amy Provenzano, Victoria O'Toole.
  • Music By: