February 11, 2010

The Wolfman

Example # 137 of what I'd rather do than
have to watch The Wolfman again

Grade: C –

Director: Joe Johnston

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, and Hugo Weaving

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

The Wolfman 2K10 aims to revive the werewolf genre by harkening back to the storyline of Lon Chaney Jr.’s original horror classic. Instead, director Joe Johnston (Jumanji; Jurassic Park III) cranks out a schlocky creature feature occupying Thomas Schatz’s parody stage of generic evolution, paying more homage to B-monster movies than the golden age of horror films.

Borrowing heavily from Curt Siodmak’s 1941 screenplay, the story centers around Lawrence Talbot (Benicio De Toro), a 19th century American stage actor who returns to his family’s English manse following the death of his brother. Lawrence tries to mend the strained relationship with his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), but the hunt for his brother’s killer leads to an encounter with a Lycan roaming the countryside. One chomp on the neck later, Lawrence morphs into a werewolf every full moon, which in the film’s fictional hamlet seems to take place every other day despite the fact that they actually occur about once a month.

Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self’s updated script goes to great lengths to document Lawrence’s trouble childhood, including the mysterious death of his mother and his stint in an insane asylum. But, it’s a plot device that holds little import since Lawrence appears to be a well-adjusted adult until werewolf DNA infects his body. Still, that is intelligent storytelling compared to the film’s relentlessly insipid dialogue, most of it monotone mutterings between Lawrence and Gwen (Emily Blunt), his late brother’s ex-fiancĂ©e. In a matter of weeks, we’re suppose to believe that Lawrence and Gwen end up falling in love, but for the life of me I cannot fathom when, why, or how it happened. Del Toro and Blunt have rarely been worse; their lifeless line-readings are as silly as they are hollow – “I didn’t know you hunted monsters.” “Sometimes monsters hunt you.”

The Wolfman might have worked as satire except it lacks the essential measure of self-awareness to merit such consideration, with the possible exception of a climactic death scene that elicits (un)intended guffaws. Only Hopkins and Hugo Weaving – as a Scotland Yard investigator on the prowl for Lawrence’s hairy alter-ego – seem to grasp the inanity of it all, and in turn they chew all the scenery in sight. While Del Toro and Blunt brood over every disjointed scene, Hopkins delivers his lines with a wink and a smile. And, Weaving wraps his Agent Smith-best around howlers like, “Rules are all that keep us from a dog-eat-dog world.”

The film only succeeds when the CGI fur – and limbs, heads, blood, and entrails – start to fly; it more than earns its R-rating. Otherwise, as a drama, love story, or thriller, The Wolfman is surprisingly, disappointingly neutered.

Neil Morris

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