Idiots and Angels is the latest feature by animator Bill Plympton (whose newest short, "Hot Dog", was very recently reviewed on this blog), and like all of his work, it's clearly and exasperatingly the work of an auteur: the great conundrum of Plympton's work is that half of the animation buffs who make up essentially all of his target audience tend to recoil from his style as hopelessly crude and artless, while the other half (including your humble blogger) respond to it as joyfully anarchic and lousy with the messiness of humanity.

Either way, Plympton's narrative sense is certainly more at home with shorts, where his "screw it, here's a gag" mindset doesn't get quite so wearying. At 78 minutes, Idiots and Angels is still a long haul, though the grimy noir detail that the creator weaves through every frame is enough to keep your attention even as it becomes clear that the film will never add up to more than the sum of its parts.

The story goes that a real asshole of a man, who spends his days in a crappy dive bar with one other regular patron, a heavyset woman with an irritating laugh, a sullen barkeep/owner and a hot woman employee, married to the owner, whose only obvious task is to mop up the floors. Over the first day we share with our protagonist, we get to see him explode a car - with the owner inside - for the crime of stealing his parking space (this is handled in a neat, if dark, bit of cartoon physics), and later destroy the dreams of the other three inhabitants of his dark little hidey-hole when he pointlessly crushes a newly-emerged butterfly with his bare hands.

This action has a metaphorical consequence: the next morning, the man finds vestigal wings poking out of his shoulders, and although he removes them with gruesome finality, every morning for the next few days, they return, bigger than before. Eventually, he's boasting a full set of bird-like wings, with a mind of their own: though his natural inclination is to use his new ability for flight to enact crimes and petty vandalisms, the wings constantly take over and fix whatever nastiness he just perpetrated. Eventually he'll learn a cockeyed life lesson about being decent to other people, but not until after events hit an absurd pitch in which a corrupt doctor attaches his wings to the barkeep, who then wages a war of terror against all his competitors.

Such as the story exists, it's just there so Plympton can hang all sorts of inventions on its framework, mostly of a crudely physical nature: in Plympton's art, the body isn't much other than a bag of fluids and impulses, and Idiots and Angels doesn't look to expand that very much. There are some other characteristic touches, such as the spatial transitions that get the man from his bed to his bar every morning, some visual puns, the pointless death of at least one cute bird, and a pair of cameo appearances by the animator's iconic dog.

Frankly, one either likes Plympton or one does not, and it's much easier to tell with one of his shorts which kind of person you are. It's rare indeed for one single mind to be so much responsible for an entire motion picture - in the Q&A following the screening I attended, Plympton indicated that the filmmaker process consisted of him giving all 25,000+ drawings to his co-producer Biljana Labovic with the command, "turn this into a movie" - and Plympton's mind is decidedly not an inviting one. It's scatalogical, misanthropic, and tremendously unseriosu, so that a film which begins with a character devoid of any appealing characteristics never really gets very dark; Plympton's gag-fixated imagination makes sure of that, though by all means the gags in Idiots and Angels are often quite vicious. It looks quite amazing - all greys and browns, with deep film noir shadows - but it's ultimately a bit shallow. I'm not trying to argue that the film is therefore bad, but it's just a vaguely more stylish version of Plympton going about his business as usual. There's pretty much no other reason for the film, and no other reason required, but it bears repeating: you're not going to come out of the movie a fan if you don't go in as one.