Friday, February 19, 2010


"Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright."

Evoking the classic line from the 1941 Lon Chaney, Jr. vehicle The Wolf Man, Universal attempts to jumpstart another franchise from its early 20th century monster stable.

Unfortunately, while the attempt to resurrect the Goth beauty of the old school Universal output is welcome, the end result is a flat-looking mess, handicapped by 21st century ADD writing and bad pop psychology.

Interrupting his run as Hamlet on the international stage, 19th century prodigal son Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) returns home to the English familial estate after his brother's gruesome death, to find the marble floors adrift with dead leaves and the staircase all cobwebby.

Spooky, right?

Almost as spooky as Sir Anthony Hopkins waddling down the stairs with a double-barreled shotgun to welcome his son home. "Welcome" being subjective, seeing how it's Hopkins and even when he's playing a nice guy, Hopkins is always packing a secret. Due to clumsy foreshadowing, it's pretty obvious early on what his secret is (believe it or not, it involves Gollum).

Papa Talbot also has a righthand man, a Sikh cleverly named Singh. In addition to being a pisspoor handyman (seeing that he only gets called to duty once a month, would it kill him to rake the floors or dust the bannisters?), Singh's only narrative purpose is to pull a Scatman Crothers and provide some weaponry for the third act before he dies. He's also pretty sad with the aphorisms:

"Sometimes you chase the monster...

...sometimes the monster chases you."

Eventually (a fairly long eventually) Larry gets bit by a werewolf and starts loping around the foggy moors ripping villager’s lungs out. Blood-spattered Jane Austin posturing for the Emily the Strange crowd ensues. It's supposed to be a pretty basic story, right? Unfortunately, here the basic is spread out to make things complicated for no other reason to make things complicated, but without the narrative chops to make the complications add up reasonably.

At times, it seems like the money shots for the trailer were written first, with the rest of the script thrown in as an afterthought. Any potential twist is telegraphed clumsily. Tone-deaf (and often laughable) dialogue is spouted by a dead-eyed cast that seems more eager to hit the craft table than to show any craft in front of the camera. An extended dream sequence is straight out of "Horror Filmmaking for Hacks."
Plot threads are introduced abruptly, then left dangling. In this run at the mythos, the gypsies serve no other purpose than to run around screaming and dying during the first werewolf attack. Eventually, Maleva shows up to offer some obvious advice, but nothing useful. Although I do get the vibe that the old gypsy was Larry's grandmother. But if so, it's another complication that got lost in the revisions and that's pretty much it for the Gypsies.

Then an abrupt detour to London is thrown in for no other reason than to have an American werewolf in London ride a gargoyle. Wait a minute... they've got gargoyles in London? No matter, 'cause after tearing up some CGI London, it's a long walk for Larry back to the estate for a Hulka-mania WWF climax that reads WTF rather than thrilling. Even the werewolf's howl is sad and pathetic, seemingly provided by some intern imitating Warren Zevon.

But, hey... del Toro's hair is perfect.

Part of the disassociation also comes from the lack of empathy del Toro evokes. The brooding bundle of resentment doesn't come across as pure in heart from the moment he rolls into the picture. He's lusting after his dead brother's fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) almost from the get-go... and the implication is that it's because she looks like his dead mother.

Okay, then.

Meanwhile, after being bitten Larry spends a month in a coma so's not to interrupt the proceedings with something as boring as showing why Larry and Gwen actually fall in love with each other. Or at least in like enough to explain how he knows where she lives in London. As it is, Larry just spends the course of the movie looking only like he's torn between wanting to fuck her or eat her. Like I said, they try to make it more complicated than it needs to be, while losing the tragedy of the original:

“Even a man who is pure in heart…”

The prosthetic effects and bloody mayhem is solid, though. Credit master monster maker Rick Baker there. But not solid enough to sit through the movie to experience, although there’s an unintentional camp aspect to the mayhem, at odds with the retro tone of the rest of the movie. Aside from Baker's effects work, there is absolutely nothing to recommend this generally boring misfire.

It's a wannabe Tim Burton period piece without the Goth feyness, attention to detail or even a noticeable understanding of the source material.

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