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‘Ruben Brandt, Collector’ a muddled, artsy crime caper with must-see animation

In "Ruben Brandt, Collector," the people are rendered in stylized animation with bizarre body parts. | Sony Pictures Animation

If you love art, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” is a non-stop visual feast, from the first frame till the last.

If you love movies, it’s a little less thrilling, but it’s still quite enjoyable, as long as you don’t get too caught up in the story — not that you’ll be able to all that well, anyway. Don’t let that stand in the way of seeing it, however.

Because seeing it really is what you’re doing here, at the expense of nearly everything else — ultimately the film is more clever than good, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, just exceptionally clever.

The animated film is the debut feature for Milorad Krstić, an artist and animator based in Budapest. The title character (voice of Ivan Kamaras) is a therapist who specializes in artistic types; for the purposes of the story, evidently this includes a lot of criminals. They’ll come in handy.

Ruben, you see, suffers from horrible nightmares, violent dreams in which works of art attack him. The film begins with Ruben on a train, where Diego Velazquez’s “Infanta Margarita Teresa” turns into a fanged monster and bites him; eventually they wind up outside of the car he’s riding in, into the path of an oncoming train.

There are 13 such paintings plaguing Ruben. Some of his patients, led by Mimi (Gabriella Hamori), an acrobatic thief, decide the way to cure Ruben’s nightmares is to steal all the works of art for him. This turns the film into a crime caper that can be a little hard to follow. Mimi is being pursued by Mike Kowalski (Csaba Marton), a detective. Meanwhile, a mob is also trying to catch up with the thieves, but best not to get too caught up in all that. Better just to marvel at what it all looks like.

What makes this such an intriguing film visually is not just the artworks that come to life, but the characters, as well — they’re rendered in a kind of cubist style, with bizarre and sometimes extra features. They also don’t seem bound by restrictions like gravity — a fall from considerable height doesn’t really faze anyone, and cars don’t have to stay on the road.

This makes for some thrilling chase scenes. There’s one near the beginning of the film, in which Kowalski is chasing Mimi, that zips along at great speed and ignores any sort of normal boundaries. It’s all so highly stylized that you never forget you’re watching a movie, of course, but it’s done with such exacting attention to detail and adrenaline that you get caught up in it, anyway.

Most of the 13 works of art that menace Ruben are easily recognizable — Andy Warhol’s “Double Elvis” plays a particularly notable part. But it’s also fun to play guess-the-artwork as characters from other works whiz by. You may not know the names offhand (I certainly didn’t), but they’re pieces you’ve seen enough that you will recognize them in a general way. It’s not just a matter of a filmmaker having fun planting Easter eggs. It’s like leaving behind a whole basket.

As entertaining as this can be to watch, even at 96 minutes the film goes on a little long — it’s a neat trick, but it’s only one, and limits “Ruben Brandt, Collector” from being more than sum of its parts. But those parts are really something.

‘Ruben Brandt, Collector’

Sony Pictures Classics presents a film written and directed by Milorad Krstić. Rated R (for nude images and some violence.). Running time: 96 minutes. Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.