By Michael Gingold
Even a film that is pure in heart, apparently, can become something tortured and misshapen once it finally sees the light of a projector. The long-awaited remake of THE WOLFMAN has finally emerged as a disappointing muddle, making it very easy to believe the widespread reports of postproduction tinkering, re-edits and reshoots. What began as a passion project for star Benicio Del Toro has wound up as a movie that’s technically proficient but is crucially lacking both soul and bite.
There’s a lot going on in the first act of Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self’s script, but even given that, the pace of the movie’s opening half hour seems unduly hurried, cut together like a long introductory montage without giving any scene room to breathe. The film seems unduly anxious to get to its raison d’etre: the attack by a loping, hairy beast that leaves Lawrence alive but suffering from its curse. Once the full moon rises again, he turns into a slavering creature via CGI that’s not as distracting as one might expect but not as visceral as one might hope, ending up in Rick Baker makeup that’s finely crafted yet perhaps too traditionally conceived for the revelation of Lawrence’s werewolf guise to be very shocking.
That wouldn’t matter so much if there was a real sense of the man beneath the monster, or palpable human drama in between the gore-strewn lycanthropic rampages. Instead, the characters remain sketchy throughout, and there’s little engagement in Lawrence’s relationships with either John (as whom Hopkins sports an on-again, off-again Scottish accent) or Gwen; all three leads, clearly dedicated to the seriousness of the project, come off as solemn to a fault. Hugo Weaving brings a little more juice to Inspector Aberline, who arrives from Scotland Yard to bring the hairy murderer to justice, but the most attention-getting performance—for the wrong reasons—is given by Antony Sher as the weirdo-accented head of an asylum where Lawrence is brought for torturous treatment, in over-the-top sequences that play like Mel Brooks took Joe Johnston’s place in the director’s chair.
For the rest, Johnston is overly dependent on sudden barking dogs, soundtrack wham!s and nightmare scenes to goose the audience before Lawrence gets beastly, and once he does, THE WOLFMAN doesn’t convincingly deal with the issue of the month’s period between his full moon-affected transformations. Everyone around the Talbots seems aware of the existence of werewolves and what to do about them, yet they make only the must cursory efforts to deal with the problem. These and other logical loopholes may well be the result of footage hitting the cutting room floor, where one can only also assume there’s more of Geraldine Chaplin as the old gypsy woman Maleva, a crucial character in the ’41 picture whose role is reduced to superfluousness here.