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Like Father Like Son: Oedipal twist tears the heart out of The Wolfman 

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The Wolfman looked like it might be OK, beginning with a lone figure prowling the moors at night, segueing into the first beastly attack. But resurrecting a horror icon should be done with some pizzazz, and the only thing this Wolfman has down is the lavish, Gothic sets.

The plot revives the classic werewolf tale. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his family estate to investigate his brother's death, deal with his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins) and contend with a horrifying family legacy. The full moon looms and evil transformation is imminent. But this one made me miss even the abysmal Wolf with Jack Nicholson, not to mention Lon Chaney Jr's sensitive portrayal in George Waggner's 1941 version.

From a checklist of the things wrong it seems blame can be cast upon the delays in production: too much re-editing, re-shooting, re-writing, and rescheduling. Mark Romanek, who showed promise with One Hour Photo, left the project in mid-production and director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3, Honey I Shrunk the Kids) took the reigns.

This is a mixed bag of celluloid horror tricks from which Johnston produces flashbacks, visions and premonitions, time-lapse photography, double exposure, an implausible love story, overbearing gloom-and-doom horns or strings, Transylvania-type setting with gypsies, a wild rampage with gore a-plenty, and an unexplained Grudge-like demon child. Alongside the raving lunatic theory, there's even a short-lived surreal and psychedelic asylum interlude. The werewolf attacks consist of abrupt cuts to the snarling face of the beast, a deafening roar, slashing swipes by bloody claws and yes, some howling at the moon

The acting just feels awkward. Del Toro never seems remorseful, and giving way to brooding, he misses the opportunity to exhibit Lon Chaney-like sadness and awareness of his plight. Lawrence's need for revenge overshadows his ability to convey humanity. Hopkins tries to swallow the screen whole with his ham-fisted combo of Hannibal Lecter and Legends of the Fall's Col. Ludlow. Gwen (Emily Blunt,) widow of Talbot's deceased brother, is either pensive or scared, helping make this movie all the more ludicrous. Hugo Weaving breathes some humor and life into the shenanigans as the Scotland Yard inspector.

With special effects that haven't progressed since The Howling, this Wolfman resembles Curse of the Werewolf, featuring Oliver Reed in a torn man-blouse. But the real culprit is the absence of tragedy and pathos. The heart of the story is the pain and suffering about life's cruel twists. Here, the heart has been ripped out and replaced by a vacuous Oedipal twist run amok that serves no purpose but to deliver a werewolf smack-down for the grand finale.

With nothing to spur it on but lackluster performances and an unbearable script, Wolfman feels redundant. It may find an audience in the ranks of unintentional camp.But with all its misgivings, uneven blend of Gothic horror and Victorian drama, and B-movie thrills, it will rest in peace waiting for the next reliable full moon. Maybe we'll get Del Toro back in top form as "Duke the Dog-Faced Boy" in a remake of Peewee's Big Top. Now that would have some pizzazz.

The Wolfman

Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving. Directed by Joe Johnston. Rated R


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