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Thursday, March 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

A sick and twisted "romantic comedy"

Special to The Seattle Times

For anyone other than a diehard Bill Plympton fan, the animated "Hair High" is an endurance test with sporadic flashes of inspiration.

Written, directed and personally drawn and colored by the former Oregonian, "Hair High" demonstrates the problem with taking a singular animated style — best seen in witty, small doses — and extending it to a 78-minute feature that taxes one's patience.

Plympton slowly gained fame and success beginning in the 1970s as a political cartoonist, magazine illustrator and maker of short animated pieces ("How to Kiss," "25 Ways to Quit Smoking"). His cartoons generally base their comedy on ever-shifting visual perspectives, offbeat scenarios and endlessly transmogrifying human figures. For some of us, the approach wears thin quickly and becomes redundant.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 1 stars

"Hair High," with the voices of Ed Begley Jr., David and Keith Carradine, Beverly D'Angelo, Eric Gilliland, Sarah Silverman, Martha Plimpton, Matt Groening. Written and directed by Bill Plympton. 78 minutes. Not rated; contains animated scenes of gore and violence. Northwest Film Forum.

Nothing about "Hair High" transcends those limitations, though Plympton gets some comic juice from his star-quality vocal cast, including Ed Begley Jr., David and Keith Carradine, Beverly D'Angelo and Sarah Silverman.

A wacky and somewhat cautionary love fable, "Hair High" is set in an unhinged, grotesque vision of 1950s youth culture. When the smart but lily-livered Spud (Eric Gilliland) arrives as the new kid at a tough high school, he immediately draws the wrath of muscle-bound Rod (Dermot Mulroney) and his girlfriend, shallow Cherri (Silverman). Rod forces Spud to become Cherri's lackey, inadvertently setting up a relationship between the latter pair that turns to love after a lot of conflict. From there, the story takes a supernatural turn.

But Plympton wears one down with his distressingly insistent images of mangled, violated and otherwise altered body parts, a particularly bizarre preoccupation in the service of an alleged romantic comedy. Cartoon or not, the sight of fingernails being pried up with the point of a knife is not especially fun to watch.

In its Northwest Film Forum presentation, "Hair High" is preceded by Plympton's recent, seven-minute animated short "The Fan and the Flower." Far sweeter, more profound and more to the point as a love story than "Hair High," "Fan" (written by television writer/producer Dan O'Shannon) is reminiscent of Shel Silverstein's classic books for kids.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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