Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: "The Wolfman"

There hasn't been a big-budget Hollywood werewolf movie in a long time, and based on this new venture there may not be again: "The Wolfman" is howlingly bad.

This film from director Joe Johnston and screenwriters David Self and Andrew Kevin Walker is a remake of the 1941 film "The Wolf Man" starring Claude Rains as a man suffering from lycanthropy, a movie that helped set off the monster movie craze.

The new version stars Benicio del Toro -- not that you could ever discern this fact from the movie's trailers -- in a glum, flat performance. Del Toro's no hack, so I can only guess he was trying to gauge his performance on some earlier interpretations, notably Lon Chaney, who portrayed the werewolf in the 1941 film.

If this new movie sounds familiar, that's because it was originally supposed to be released in November of 2008. It was repeatedly pushed back, and some new scenes were shot last year and computerized effects added in.

The result is a strange mix. The action scenes with the werewolf are exciting enough, although most of the kills seem to be of the "boo-gotcha" variety. Johnston starts out shooting the monster circumspectly, but about halfway through he switches to full-on gore mode. There's lots of torn limbs, spilled entrails, and ripping of flesh in long, stringy tendrils.

Then we switch the the "human" scenes, which are interminably boring.

Emily Blunt plays Gwen, the fiance of a son of Lord Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) killed by some beast. Del Toro plays the other son, Lawrence, a famous stage actor who returns to investigate his brother's murder -- and cast some goo-goo eyes at Gwen.

Lord Talbot is a strange figure who talks about how much he loves his sons, but behaves curiously indifferent to them -- especially whether they live or die.

The transformation scenes are impressive, but honestly aren't better than the ones achieved by "An American Werewolf in London" nearly 30 years ago.

Hugo Weaving is a welcome respite as Abberline, the Scotland Yard detective sent to investigate the murders. He has a great scene where wanders into the local pub and begins to read a newspaper. The frightened townsfolk demand to know why he isn't out hunting the creature. Abberline responds that since it's impossible for him to track the beast, it's better if he remains close to the largest concentration of "potential victims" -- i.e., the pub-dwellers swilling their pints.

The movie keeps tumbling along through alternating scenes of increasing violence and dialogue scenes of surmounting lethargy.

I have never fallen asleep in a movie, but I came dangerously close during "The Wolfman."

1 star

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