Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why another 'Wolfman?' Beats me

I am Wolfman, Hear me Roar!

The Wolfman, a remake of the 1941 horror classic that starred the estimable Lon Chaney, puts some fury on display - mostly as result of violence that's introduced with all the subtlety of a sonic boom. But what's the point? Visually overstimulated and thematically hollow, this edition of Wolfman brings better technology to an old tale, but still finds itself hampered by ridiculously ominous dialogue, grandly inflated conflicts and a tendency to turn its wolfman attacks into slashing arias of what one character describes as brains, guts and God knows what.

Wasting little time on anything as trivial as character development, director Joe Johnston barrels through the story without leaving much breathing room. Despite a prestigious cast -- led by Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins -- the movie too often loses itself in dark, gloom-shrouded forests where misguided "B" movies search for A-list stature.

"Sometimes, the way of fate is a cruel one,'' says a gypsy woman played by a shriveled-looking Geraldine Chaplin.

Yeah, and sometimes, it's not easy to figure out precisely why a movie has been made.

The tale begins when Del Toro's Lawrence Talbot visits Blackmoor. He's an actor who has been playing Hamlet in London. Talbot returns to the shabby estate that's presided over by his imposing father (Hopkins), a man who seems to have a hired a decorator from the cobweb-and-candle school of interior design.

The impetus for the visit: Talbot's brother has gone missing. The poor fellow's body, we later learn, has been savagely ripped apart. Talbot vows to find his brother's killer. He also meets his brother's fiancee (Emily Blunt). She hangs around for most of the movie, often looking deeply pained. Maybe she's read the script.

Wandering gypsies, enraged villagers, a scolding clergyman and a persistent Scotland Yard inspector (Hugo Weaving) serve as a kind of chorus for the main drama, but add little by way of interest.

If the script - just as it is - had been turned over to Mel Brooks, it might have yielded to the kind of comic impulses that could have saved it from its faux grandiosity, a posture that isn't helped by a Del Toro performance that tends to fade into the Blackmoor mists.

Even Hopkins, no slouch when it comes to stealing a scene, can't tower over the material which plays around with father/son conflicts and the tendency for reason to give way to the beastly side of things, particularly when there's a full moon. Be assured, there's no shortage of full moons in The Wolfman.

All of this has been set to a Danny Elfman score that calls as much attention to itself as the wolfman's howls. Maybe Elfman was trying to match the super strength of werewolves, who are able to knock heads off bodies with a single swipe of the arm and who can't be outrun by mere mortals.

Of course, there's gore aplenty, including severed limbs and bodies that have been chewed to the bone. At times, the movie looks as if the sets had been decorated by someone who had been assigned to prowl through dumpsters outside London's butcher shops.

Full moons, silver bullets and gloomy landscapes not withstanding, Johnston's "I-am-beast, hear-me-roar" approach to drama too often generates more snickering than bone-chilling terror. Johnston (Jurassic Park III and Hidalgo) creates a dour mood, but you'll pretty much be ahead of the plot at every turn.

At the conclusion of a preview screening, a variety of audience members got into the spirit of things by howling like wounded animals. Oh well, maybe The Wolfman has some camp value, after all.

No comments: