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Movie review: 'Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut'

Tribune Staff Reporter

3-1/2 stars (out of 4)

With 20 additional minutes of screen time, the director's cut of Richard Kelly's genre-splicing "Donnie Darko" offers new viewers a second chance to discover his mind-bending masterwork.

For the uninitiated, "Donnie Darko" stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a troubled high school student haunted by a demonic-looking, six-foot rabbit, who predicts the end of the world. Throw in alternate universe theories, time travel and schizophrenia, and you approach the core of Kelly's film.

Part of the reason for "Darko's" initial flop was its extra-textual nature--it was a movie that made more sense when viewers explored the movie's Web site and DVD. Originally, "Darko's" allure was its illusive nature--viewers were asked to participate in an explanation, engaged by Kelly's philosophical slight of hand.

In this version, a few previously excised scenes are added, including a subplot relating Richard Adam's novel "Watership Down" to Donnie's plight. Mostly, Kelly literally spells his intentions out to his audience, imposing passages from "The Philosophy of Time Travel" (a book pivotal to the film) straight onto the screen.

Music cues are changed as well, and fans of the film with be thrown when the opening montage begins with INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart," in place of the much more lyrically ominous, tighter thematic fit of "Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen.

Kelly bruises "Darko's" legacy with the inclusion of one line of dialogue in which Donnie's psychiatrist tells him to stop taking his medication--that they are, in fact, placebos. Not only does this discourage diverse, multi-layered readings of the film, but it also doesn't make sense, especially after she recommends to his parents that they raise his dosage.

In his quest to make "Darko" more accessible, Kelly might upset a few loyalists of the original, but there are still enough questions left to confound and enthrall audiences in "Donnie Darko's" reconfigured version.

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut

Written and directed by Richard Kelly; photographed by Steven Poster; production design by Alexander Hammond; music by Michael Andrews; edited by Sam Bauer and Eric Strand; produced by Adam Fields, Nancy Juvonen and Sean McKittrick. A Newmarket Film Group release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:13. R (language, some drug use and violence).
Donnie Darko - Jake Gyllenhaal
Gretchen Ross - Jena Malone
Kitty Farmer - Beth Grant
Mrs. Rose Darko - Mary McDonnell
Mr. Eddie Darko - Holmes Osborne
Jim Cunningham - Patrick Swayze
Prof. Kenneth Monnitoff - Noah Wyle
Karen Pomeroy - Drew Barrymore

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