THE WOLFMAN -
Rated: USA: PG-13
A guy goes running after something armed with only a torch and threats.
In the woods.
By the look of him, I'd say this takes place in the 1800s. Horror Thriller movies haven't been invented yet so he hasn't any idea of what a REALLY bad thing he's doing.
Soon he is running away from something. Soon he is scattered splatter.
This scene lets you know right up front that it will be loaded with splattery gore.
Then we get a monologue over a montage which is reasonably acceptable because the woman's voice is her letter which she sent to the first victim's brother, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro: SIN CITY). Her name is Gwen Conliff (Emily Blunt: IRRESISTIBLE, WIND CHILL) and she was the dead man's fiance. Lawrence arrives to his old home, a massive castle surrounded by a wide green estate of ponds, grass, trees, and old world wealth. Why would anyone stay away from this? Well his old man for one thing. His father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, DRACULA , HANNIBAL, RED DRAGON, FRACTURE), welcomes Lawrence with barely disguised contempt and behaves with the unmistakable air of a man who is trying to woo the very young Gwen himself: hardly a man who is grief-stricken over the recent slaughter of his youngest son.
Meanwhile the townsfolk are all on edge, looking for the killer that did young master Talbot in. Hunts go on at night and everyone has a theory. The local bartender believes it is the tame bear that belongs to the Gypsies that are passing through. Some believe that, some don't, but nobody much likes the Gypsies hanging about.
Lawrence doesn't like hanging about the castle and he and his father appear to have some old grievance, so when he hears of the hunt for the varmint wot killed his brother, he wants to join in. His father warns him, in a rather off-handed way, that he may not want to do that, but Lawrence doesn't care. He viewed his brother's decaying corpse and killing the killer has him all fired up.
His father's manservant (kinda like a butler only with more derring-do), an East Indian man named Singh (Art Malik: UNDERWORLD , OUTDONE), gives Lawrence a stronger warning, but it's also more cryptic, and so, useless. Lawrence ignores all, goes to the Gypsy camp, and Merry Mishaps occur.
A very stupid decision on the part of Universal Pictures was in the selling of THE WOLFMAN. Doing away with any intended suspense or mystery, the trailers and all other advertising let you know right off that the father, Sir John Talbot, is also a Wolfman. Which makes this movie even more inept as this is played out in the tale as a "Reveal!"
Under the direction of Joe Johnston (JURASSIC PARK III) and the cinematic eye of Director of Photography, Shelly Johnson (JURASSIC PARK III), THE WOLFMAN has the kind of scenery and action sequences that were possible in the time of the Hammer reboots, they just didn't do them. Watching THE WOLF MAN, I had to wonder why.
Unfortunately, while Johnston truly delivers on the vicious attack sequences (so he earned his paycheck there by Ghod!) these moments are far between and believe me, you'll be yawning through the bloodless sturm und drang of an unfolding mystery you've already solved, waiting for the next action moment.
OKAY, WE'LL SELL THE WOLFMAN MOVIE ON ITS ACTORS!
Lawrence has no life, just a wretched past he can't forget and an awful present he doesn't want. His future is pretty bleak too, as far as he can tell. Death would actually be a blessed relief, so we can also kiss the potential tragedy of all of this goodbye.
Without her love affair with Ben, who we never got to know, Gwen has no life either except to return to her antique store (the store isn't an antique, that's what it sells).
Gwen feels sorry for Lawrence, as who wouldn't? And she'd hate to see the only other good person of the Talbot family come to harm. Sir John lives in the squalid interior of a lavish castle exterior and doesn't seem to note or care how empty his life is. A massive painting of Lawrence's dead mother stares down beautifully upon it all. Whatever Universal Pictures was trying to achieve with this movie, they weren't attempting to scale the heights of the original film, which had a much better developed plot and characters (set in the 20th century) and took nearly half as long to tell it.
And if that isn't enough, THE WOLFMAN inexplicably earns the
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT!!!:
What? What is that you say? The Unfair Racial Cliche Alert? WTF is an URCA?
Go to the UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT to see what I'm talking about in general, then go to URCA/theWolfman_2010, to see what I'm talking about in particular. But beware, the URCA definitely has SPOILERS.
You couldn't have hired a better writer in the form of one Kevin Andrew Walker (SE7EN, 8MM, SLEEPY HOLLOW). While Kevin's style: over-the-top dysfunctional relationships, won't work in every movie, I can see how that could be put to good effect here. Kevin's co-writer (and vice-versa), David Self (THE HAUNTING, THIRTEEN DAYS, THE ROAD TO PERDITION) has shown himself to be a better writer of non-Horror, Thriller movies. What's more, Self has an altogether different style of characterization than Walker and when I watch Self's best, THE ROAD TO PERDITION, and arguably Walker's best, SE7EN, I'm struck with the thought that having these two men describe the behavior and actions of the same characters had to cause a clash. Both are very good at what they do, but both are very different. Walker has his actors speak their feelings where Self allows the actors to invent ways to silently act out their feelings.
Then someone thought to replace Mark Romanek (who directs character interaction very well and knows how to let the camera dwell on a silent actor acting) with Joe Johnston. Joe cut his teeth on practically nothing but adventure movies and looking at the man's past resume and future projects, that's what he loves and where he wants to stay. So why would anyone hand the reigns of a script that is clearly a human drama set against a Horror Thriller backdrop to a guy who prefers to shoot action adventure movies? Because in no way is THE WOLFMAN an action adventure story. You wouldn't hire Walker and Self to write an entire action adventure feature film and neither man ever has. The closest Walker ever came was a couple of car chase BMW commercials, and THE WOLFMAN, set in the mid 1800s, has a real dearth of car chases!
Benicio's character of Lawrence goes through the paces of both Walker and Self while trying to deliver Johnston's two-fisted adventure and, somewhere through the various directors, editors, and the mish-mash of producers wrestling with what they had, it comes across awkward. Watching THE WOLFMAN, I know Benicio is better than this. Like when I watched SPECIES and SOUND OF THUNDER. I KNOW Ben Kingsley is better than that. Sheesh!
ER, NO, WAIT. WE'LL SELL OUR WOLFMAN MOVIE ON THE WOLFMAN! OOH! I JUST CAN'T DECIDE!
So what we wind up with is a film by committee. Speaking of committee, these are the producers of this flick,
Sean Daniel (John Carpenter's VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, THE MUMMY [1999 - all], THE GIFT)
Scott Stuber (the upcoming REPO MEN)
and Benicio del Toro,
What do all of these producers have in common? They've all produced chick-flick Romantic Comedies (I guess that would explain the Valentine's Day weekend release), but none of them, not even Sean who was actually behind the failed THE MUMMY franchise, produced a scary movie in their lives - ever. Even THE MUMMY was played for laughs long after the laughs stopped.
Oh, and these are the executive producers: the guys forever passing along the sticky notes.
Ryan Kavanaugh (LAND OF THE DEAD, DEATH RACE, A PERFECT GETAWAY, ZOMBIELAND - his list is way longer than this, with more misses than hits, but they all appear to be solid attempts and even some worthwhile experiments)
Jon Mone (most successful of the bunch, but he makes successful sports movies. THE WOLFMAN is not a sports movie. You don't want to be taking notes from this guy on your Horror movie)
Bill Carraro (BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, DAREDEVIL, WILLARD , STAY, MY SUPER EX GIRLFRIEND, THE GOLDEN COMPASS - basically, if Bill touches it, a movie crumbles: cursed to lose money evermore.)
So let's tally it all up. You hire two writers, both renown for writing fascinating, thrilling human drama tales but both with a very different approach: Neither successful with scary tales but decent enough for straight Horror.
Then you hire a director who enjoys making action adventure movies, NOT human drama and NOT Horror. And you know he very adamantly - publically - wants to have nothing to do with this movie, but you want his name, so you throw a bunch of money at him until he agrees.
And all of this incompetence is overseen by a bunch of Producers who don't like making horror movies, as they've spent their careers making romantic comedies.
Finally, have the studio Give Away the freaking End of the Movie in the trailers and have a non-romantic, non-Horror movie you have ADVERTISED as a Gothic Romance Horror Thriller released on Valentine's Day Weekend.
No wonder Anthony Hopkins didn't take any of this seriously. Kudos to Emily Blunt as well as Hugo Weaving (THE MATRIX [all], THE LORD OF THE RINGS [all], V FOR VENDETTA, TRANSFORMERS [all]) as Detective Abberline of Scotland Yard, for at least giving it a shot. As for Benicio Del Toro, who carries the weight of this film, who knows how much difference there is between what he gave and what was chopped up, in, and out?
What a trainwreck!
THE WOLFMAN is only marginally saved by the superior make-up effects of Rick Baker and crew, and the wolves and gore are truly played for all they're worth. Extra kudos to Rick for properly defining from the very beginning, a difference between a werewolf and a wolfman (as set out in the original THE WOLF MAN movie). Even with that, Rick appears to have been hampered by simply recreating the Jack P. Pierce Wolfman look of Lon Chaney Jr. Jack was limited by both the technology of the time and his own out-of-the-kit methods. Why stay with that? Even Rick Baker did far better with werewolves in 1981, and that was nearly 30 years ago!
As it stands today, THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), remain at the top of Lycanthrope Mountain and are in no danger of losing to, or even sharing their throne with, anyone else.
Good visuals, cinematography, and SFX, but that's not enough to breathe life into this dead dog party.
Two Shriek Girls.
This review copyright 2010 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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