Like its star Benicio Del Toro, “The Wolfman” is a little wonky but strangely appealing. The film, which has more to do with the atmospherics of Hammer horror than, say, the theatrics of the lame “Underworld” series, is a perplexing beast that mixes some fairly good shocks with a lifeless lead performance.
Del Toro is Lawrence Talbot, a Victorian-era actor who returns to his ancestral home outside London after his brother is attacked and killed by… something. Awaiting him at the dusty old country house is his estranged (and just plain strange) father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt). Determined to find out who or what mauled his brother, he launches an investigation that leads to a gypsy encampment on a full moon. Guess what? He gets bitten by a werewolf and every full moon transforms into the thing he hates most.
Director Joe Johnston, (the helmer behind “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and “Hidalgo”) proves he has a knack for old school horror atmosphere—the film is all cobwebs, shadows and candlelight—and action scenes but absolutely none for dealing with the heart and soul of the film—the characters. The Talbots and Gwen dominate the movie but are more sketches of horror movie characters than fully drawn individuals. Hopkins (who gets the movie’s best intentional laughs playing the Worst. Father. Ever.) and Blunt squeak by on acting chops alone, but Del Toro, who is in nearly every scene, isn’t so lucky.
Perhaps he was poorly cast or perhaps he isn’t really trying, it’s hard to tell. He doesn’t have a natural flair for the courtly dialogue that seems to roll off the British tongues so easily, but then again, the dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle. When your most memorable line is, “I will kill all of you,” (repeated twice for emphasis) you know more time was spent on the set decoration (which is great) and the transformation scenes than the words.
Despite lots of dramatic moments—long stares, meaningful glances—there is little actual drama. The story is pure B-movie horror and exists solely as a vessel to keep things afloat until we get to the action scenes and the Holy Grail of every wolfman movie, the all important man to beast transformation.
On that score the movie entertains. Blood squirts, a disembodied hand shoots a gun and more blood squirts. It’s a gory little flick that takes off after a slow start with some decent jolts (once it gets over using loud sounds to create tension) and two great transformation scenes courtesy of special effects wiz Rick Baker.
“The Wolfman” isn’t going to do for werewolves what “Twilight” and “True Blood” have done for vampires—werewolves are too hairy to be sexy—but despite its flaws is a howlingly fun Saturday afternoon matinee movie.
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