By Daniel Barnes
*Now playing at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
A lo-fi, low-stakes charmer from Michel Gondry, light years removed from the insufferable manic quirk of Mood Indigo, but still a disconnected effort just barely tethered to its own meager narrative. Bullied misfit artist Daniel (branded “Microbe” for his short stature) and new kid gearhead Théo (labeled “Gasoline” because of the grease permanently caked under his nails) set out on a quest to “kick the future’s ass,” constructing an unlicensed vehicle that transforms into a house whenever a cop comes near. This is easily the least fantastical feature Gondry has ever made, and a lot of the film has the feel of a memoir, with an innocent but angst-ridden charm largely missing from his recent work. There are a lot of lovely and imaginative sequences, such as Gasoline pantomiming his way through an imaginary capacity crowd at Microbe’s unattended art gallery opening, but it still feels unformed and slim. Gondry can’t latch on to anything for more than a couple of minutes at a time, and a lot of the narrative threads (including Audrey Tautou in a throwaway role as Microbe’s mother) are left to flap in the breeze. When the film sticks with the kids, there is at least some truth in there; when it strays, Microbe and Gasoline becomes just more coming-of-age/road/message movie pablum.