Thursday, February 18, 2010

"The Wolfman" Review

Most one or one and a half star reviews I write are in response to films that are stupendously bad--not just poorly made, but also offensive to my artistic sensibilities on some level. That isn't the case with "The Wolfman," which is too dull to provoke so strong a negative response.

The film suffers from a blanketing mediocrity that compounds itself with each passing scene, and I was strapped to think of a single compelling reason (outside of a half-baked feeling of critical duty) not to fall asleep. But though my eyelids grew heavy, I watched the film in its entirety and can now offer the sentiment that, while not stupendously bad, "The Wolfman" is a film that I can't think of a single good thing to say about.

The opening scene serves as a telling microcosm for the greater disappointing experience. In it, a man with mutton chops and a lantern (Victorian England, duh) makes his way along a moonlit wooded path. The atmosphere is eerie only in an immediately familiar horror-shorthand sort of way. You've seen this scene before, or if not can probably imagine it, because it's the very stereotype of a werewolf attack. And worse, any incidental suspense that's built is thrown completely out the window when the creature strikes, felling the mustachioed man in a half-second blur. For the record, I'm not sure there's a less interesting visual in the vocabulary of film that could have been applied. It sets a clear precedent for the uninspired, thoughtlessly choreographed action in "Wolfman," which has every reason to be the only highlight of this Hollywood remake.

Instead, the action is just as inept as the story, which shuttles its characters around as if on rails to service one unsurprising plot development after another, and even the incredible cast (Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving) shuck lame performances under director Joe Johnston, whose principal problem is a lack of focus in the screenplay. First, Del Toro's character returns from America to investigate the mysterious murder of his brother (our friend with the mutton chops)--and really that's enough for a movie--but then he gets bitten and the focus shifts to his becoming a werewolf. And then the identity of the first werewolf is revealed, and the film becomes a three-way power struggle between the wolves and Weaving, who plays the Chief Inspector tasked with hunting them down. Toss in a completely unconvincing love story and the bottom line is that there’s so much going on in "The Wolfman" that none of it feels important.

In fact, so little of the film stands out that it's almost impossible not to let your eyes glaze over and embrace the coming drowsiness. The film exists apart from its audience, completely unengaging, joyless, and unworthy of anyone's time or attention. "The Wolfman" scores a one not because it does anything horribly, but because it does everything poorly. If just one or two elements had fallen into place, maybe the movie could have been salvaged as popcorn entertainment, but even on the peripheral you have Danny Elfman's melodramatic score and merely serviceable visual effects.

"The Wolfman" may not inspire the sort of venom that stupendously bad films do, but it's so achingly boring that you can't help but wish you felt anything at all.


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