Andy Bockelman: ‘Wolfman’ definitely hairy, not very scary
February 27, 2010
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Running time: 102 minutes
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving
One would think that seeing the title character of "The Wolfman" rip off a man's arm and throw it to the ground while the pistol in the disembodied hand fires upon impact would be exciting.
In 1891, the village of Blackmoor, England, is shaken by the vicious mutilation of resident Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells). Looking like the work of a savage beast, locals are on the watch for something — or someone — that is threatening their safety.
The return of Ben's brother Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) sets them further on edge, as the black sheep of the family has not been to the Talbot estate since childhood, remaining an outsider. Wanting to find the culprit behind Ben's death for the sake of his sibling's grieving fiancée (Emily Blunt), Lawrence ignores the warnings of his eccentric father (Anthony Hopkins) to search the moors at night.
He quickly comes to regret his decision when out of the mist and fog in the full moon emerges a fur-covered force of nature that nearly kills him. But surviving the ordeal may be worse than death, as Lawrence finds himself plagued by ominous nightmares involving wolves.
And the next full moon isn't too far away …
With his considerable resemblance to definitive werewolf Lon Chaney Jr., Del Toro looks the part of a tortured soul whose unwanted foray into lycanthropy makes his life all the worse. However, despite his primal approach to the role, the actor rarely seems convincing as the emotionally-stunted Lawrence, whose early history in an insane asylum already makes everyone in his radius tiptoe around him.
Hopkins doesn't even seem to be trying as his father, Sir John, a former big-game hunter turned hermit, who, of course, knows more about the history of the wolfman than he lets on. Blunt at least makes an effort as Gwen, whom Lawrence quickly grows attached to before and during his nightly prowls.
Hugo Weaving is fine but unnecessary as the Scotland Yard investigator devoted to protecting the villagers from the unholy threat in their midst, but Geraldine Chaplin is no substitute for Maria Ouspenskaya as the gypsy fortuneteller Maleva, who advises Lawrence on the ways of the wolf and what he's in for unless a silver bullet comes into the picture.
The remake of the 1941 classic shows that there's just no way to top the best of the best in monster movie actors.
Original stars Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Claude Rains are simply inimitable, and director Joe Johnston knows it.
But that doesn't prevent him from putting his grubby paws all over the story and turning it into another dumbed down action horror flick like he did with "The Mummy." The violence is excessive and unimaginative as the wolfmen — yes, in the plural — wreak bloody, dismembering havoc upon the people of Victorian England.
This wouldn't be so bad, except there's hardly any shocks to be had with the bloodshed containing practically no tension in the buildup.
What's worse, a subconscious, oedipal theme lurks within the narrative, promising a sharp payoff that never actually comes.
After all, there are entrails to be spilled instead.
But it's not all bad. Rick Baker's makeup expertise makes for some fantastic lupine transformation scenes, especially after the lazy, instantaneous metamorphoses seen in "New Moon." Likewise, Danny Elfman's musical score sets a laudably eerie tone that unfortunately isn't matched by the onscreen action.
"The Wolfman" is another instance of messing with success for the sake of an updated remake. Johnston could take a hint from the makers of far superior werewolf movies "An American Werewolf in London" and "Ginger Snaps," which don't have to mimic something tried and true in order to best howl at the moon.
As it is now, his touch is as about as useful as a bloom of wolfsbane.