"Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut"

Given the rare opportunity to revisit his studio-trimmed, small-budget gem only three years after its theatrical release, writer-director Richard Kelly has restored scenes deleted after Sundance 2001, added souped-up transitional dream sequences and clarified some of the story -- almost always to the detriment of the mesmerizing surrealist mystery that made the film such an uncanny masterpiece in the first place.

While I wouldn't exactly call it "dumbed down," this 11-minute-longer version offers up far too much (and too obvious) foreshadowing. It features quotes from a plot-pivotal book ("The Philosophy of Time Travel") as on-screen chapter stops, designed to offer vaguely spiritual (but hardly vague) explanations for the events in the last act -- instead of letting the viewer's imagination run wild in delicious enigma.

More curious and misguided still, Kelly adds several overly kinetic, futuristic computer-screen transition sequences -- teeming with quick-scrolling "data," floating picture-in-picture flashbacks and symbolic computereze ("purge!") written in giant letters. These flashes of big-budget visual overkill are completely unnecessary and so wildly incongruous with the film's brilliantly idiosyncratic style (not to mention its 1980s setting) that they look like they belong in "Minority Report" or "I, Robot."

And worse yet, many of the restored scenes burden Donnie with an unintended emotional inconsistency. Instead of his tormented imagination evolving into ominous enlightenment, Donnie now seems bi-polar -- even being happy and bonding with his mom or dad in a couple scenes. Some such moments bring the film an extra level of visceral emotion, but mostly they serve as potholes in the picture's psychological flow.

But what really gets me isn't what Kelly added to his "Director's Cut," it's what he took out -- like the pivotal moment in which Donnie pokes his head inside one of the globular streams that extend from people's bodies on the plane of existence only he can see. What he experiences inside has been replaced by another one of those computer-screen sequences.

"Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut" is still a work of some genius, good enough to knock the socks off anyone who hasn't seen the 2001 version. But the spirit I described in my original review -- that air of a David Lynch world spawned from a comic book mindset -- is sorely absent here.

*** out of **** (133m | R)

-- Rob Blackwelder