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Ten Word or Less Review: Bad dog.

Remaking classic Universal horror films has become a Hollywood habit on par with heroin addiction.  It’s disgusting and awful and no good for anyone but they just keep doing it because they think they have to.  “The Invisible Man” became a shitty Chevy Chase movie.  And then an even shittier Kevin Bacon film.  “Frankenstein” was morphed into Robert DeNiro caked in prosthetic face parts.  “The Mummy” quickly deteriorated into a joke franchise for Brendan Fraser to headline.  Somewhere the creature from the Black Lagoon is hiding in his swamp, begging to be forgotten.  That brings us to the poor tale of “The Wolfman.”  Bearing all the tell tale signs of a production gone typically wrong, Universal’s own remake of its golden age classic slogs through the motions, a movie slowly choking itself with tediousness and rote action from its opening moments.

Benicio Del Toro steps into the fur worn long ago by Lon Chaney, our cursed protagonist Lawrence, the poor soul destined to become the ravenous Wolfman of the title.  After years away from home working with the theater, Lawrence returns home to discover that his brother has been murdered in gruesome fashion.  His father, Anthony Hopkins, is a reclusive loner who spends his nights pining for his long dead wife of years ago.  Around them the town’s folk are living in fear of a savage beast who has returned after a long absence to slaughter them without mercy.  Gypsy’s are blamed, taverns are inhabited, ominous things are muttered, people are ripped to shreds, etc.  This new Wolfman has a bad case of fleas.

With a much troubled and storied production; late director changes, editing issues, numerous release delays, “The Wolfman” feels like a movie stripped of personality and point.  It lacks the old fashioned, theatrical opulence of Coppola’s “Dracula”, the Hammer inspired atmosphere Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow”, or even the rank and intentional stupidity of something as awful as “Van Helsing.”  It has no vigor, charm, depth or purpose.  Nary an individual characteristic can be rooted out of the whole thing.  It doesn’t even bother to insult the intelligence in any grand way.  It’s simply a cold movie that feels as if it was created out of a financial obligation, not passion.

Headlining “Wolfman” is Del Toro, an unobvious choice for a Victorian age horror film.  Looking to hide his Hispanic origins with low lighting and make up, Del Toro’s face looks pasty, lumpy and sick, as if it could start to gross moss on it at any moment.  He looks deflated an unmotivated every single minute he’s on screen.  Whatever originally drew him and other talent to the project has clearly been shot away in a hail of studio mandated bullets.  Del Toro reeks of an actor fulfilling an obligation and nothing more.  He establishes no chemistry with perfunctory/mandatory love interest Emily Blunt.  Blunt practically disappears into the background of the scenery with nothing notable to do or say.  Hugo Weaving shows up for some reason but he has no real part to play.  If he were removed completely nothing noteworthy would alter.  Usual scene stealer Anthony Hopkins looks like he’s thinking about hamming it up, but stops short, deciding not to waste the effort on this doomed project.

Eleventh hour director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) shoots and assembles the movie professionally, but he can’t bring to life what has already been repeatedly run over.  He’s a taxidermist, hired to stuff and mount road kill.  The only saving grace of the whole endeavor is a well financed production and top of the line make up effects.  Rick Baker’s work is a real treat and the integration of practical and CGI effects are impressive.  The transformation scenes are a brief bit of enjoyment and surprise.  It’s quite clear that great expense and fuss were lavished on all technical parts of the production, but it’s all meaningless window dressing.  An immaculate, handmade prom dress being worn on a lifeless body.

“The Wolfman” stands as another sad example of Hollywood tinkering gone wrong.  What was supposed to be a dark, revisionist telling of a classic horror story became a listless, hand in your chin, smirk inducing piece of shit.  We can hope that someone, somewhere gleamed a small amount of insight from this experience and learned that making movies via committee is not making movies at all.  But considering Hollywood didn’t learn that the first 896 times it happened, chances are it didn’t happen here.  Stay in your swamp Black Lagoon creature.

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