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The Independent Critic

Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Joe Johnston
Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Rated R
125 Mins.

 "The Wolfman" Review 
The phrase "bloody awful" has seldom felt so appropriate as it does for The Wolfman, Universal Pictures' remake of its 1941 creature classic. Starring Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, a man lured back to his family's estate following the mysterious disappearance of his brother, The Wolfman is not just devoid of entertainment value it is irritatingly devoid of entertainment value.

Set in a late 19th century English village long subjected to mysterious and violent goings on, The Wolfman is remarkable only in the fact that virtually every aspect of filmmaking is completely and utterly abysmal here, from the lifeless and bland performance of lead Del Toro to Johnston's laughably pretentious direction to Danny Elfman's just plain awful and over-the-top original score to the paint-by-numbers production design of Rick Heinrichs. Only Milena Canonero's costuming and, not surprisingly, Rick Baker's make-up designs manage to evoke anything that feels even remotely appropriate for the occasion, and amongst the cast only Hugo Weaving, as a Scotland Yard detective sent to investigate the mysterious goings on, manages to truly impress.

Upon his arrival, Lawrence learns from his father (a scene-chewing Anthony Hopkins) that his brother is already dead but he commits to his brother's grieving fiance' (Emily Blunt) that he will stay until he is able to discover the truth of his brother's death.

You do know the truth, right?

Before long, Lawrence is attacked while visiting the Gypsies and, come next full moon, Lawrence's fate seems quite well established as the hairy Del Toro becomes the hairier Wolfman. This, of course, leads to scenes that wax eloquent with family revelations courtesy of his father, a re-commitment to the local asylum and one really pissed off wolf or man or wolfman.

It seems like director Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Honey I Shrunk the Kids) can't quite decide if The Wolfman is going to be a loving, faithful tribute to the 1941 classic or a campier, more artistic contemporary send-up of the original complete with one core twist that shan't be revealed here. This indecisiveness makes the film feel constantly uneven and possessing a tone that vacillates between terminally dry to excessively violent to not so subtle hints of deep drama.

Unfortunately, Del Toro has never been worse than he is here as Lawrence Talbot. Seldom in his career has Del Toro played anything that could be described as bland, but his portrayal of Lawrence Talbot is almost painfully uninteresting and, at best, downright silly.As his father, Hopkins at least seems to have the benefit of knowing that the entire thing is silly and, as a result, mostly just hams it up for most of the film. For Hopkins, it's hard not to get the sense that The Wolfman is a really, really fun paycheck film.

As the film's love interest, Emily Blunt is given little to do and does very little while most of the remaining supporting players fall into nice and neat stereotypes ranging from a psychic gypsy (Geraldine Chaplin) to a hellfire preacher (Roger Frost) and a laughably stereotypical 19th century psychiatrist (Michael Cronin).

The visual transformation from man to beast is cinematic eye candy along the lines of Michael Jackson's Thriller meets An American Werewolf in London, though Shelly Johnson's camera work too often reinforces the film's overwhelming lack of authenticity.

Only one scene genuinely entertains, a scene taking place as a full moon approaches with Lawrence Talbot smack dab in the middle of a medical theatre on full display, but the scene is so voraciously over-the-top that even its entertainment value is muted before the scene comes to a close.

Despite the advances in technology and special effects, the 1941 original remains a vastly superior film on the strength of Lon Chaney's far more satisfying performance and a more even tone that maintains the film's watchability over 60 years later. While hardcore creature fans may very well still find pockets of enjoyment in this updated version, true connoisseurs of monster flicks will always turn back to the purity and sheer entertainment value of the original.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic