The Wolfman (2010)

Funny word, laughable. On the face of it, inducing laughter wouldn't seem to be a bad thing. We all like a good laugh, right? But to be laughable, of course, is to induce laugter unintentionally, often by being inept. I wonder when that particular linguistic turn happened, when "suitable to induce laughter" became "so ridiculous, it's funny."

The Wolfman, I am here to tell you, is unintentionally funny. It is thoroughly laughable. The other funny thing about things which are laughable: They don't leave you feeling happy, as you might after seeing a genuinely, intentionally funny movie. No, happiness is not the feeling one is left with after The Wolfman is over. 

A needless remake of the 1941 Lon Chaney classic, The Wolfman adds nothing new to the horror genre, or to werewolf mythology, except for some competently rendered computer graphics that allow the werewolf in question to run along rooftops and sprout fur, fangs and claws before our very eyes. Our by now very jaded eyes -- it takes a lot more than insta-grow claws to make a movie interesting. 

There are actually two werewolves in The Wolfman. One of them kills poor, unfortunate Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells) in the first few minutes of the movie, thereby setting the plot in motion. Ben's bereaved fiancee Gwen (Emily Blunt) then writes to Ben's estranged brother Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), an American Shakespearean actor who happens to be touring England. Because if there's one thing England has always needed us Yanks for, it's performing Shakespeare. Presumably, Lawrence's stint in the colonies explains his lack of a British accent, and presumably, Del Toro was game enough to don a furry suit, but not game enough to try on an accent. So I guess we won't be seeing him doing Shakespeare at the Old Vic any time soon. Lawrence returns to the home he left as a child (when he was shipped off to America, you see). He is frequently haunted by dreadful flashbacks to his childhood. Home is a dark and dreary castle full of smoke, dead leaves, cobwebs, and taxidermy. It's occupied by Lawrence's dear old dad, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), a gun-toting lunatic, and his faithful Sikh manservant Singh (Art Malik). Although the year is 1891, Sir John apparently prefers candlelight to gaslight, which gives the old homestead a lot more ambience, though not in a good way. (The cinematography by Shelly Johnson is nicely atmospheric, and makes good use of dim light.) Gwen mopes about the place, and then Lawrence joins her in moping about the place. 

In the course of investigating Ben's untimely and brutal death, Lawrence is bitten by the werewolf. No surprises there. A gypsy woman (Geraldine Chaplin) saves his life, but of course, come the full moon, Lawrence turns into a howling, rampaging, bloodthirsty beast. Sir John seems quite delighted by this turn of events, for reasons that will surprise no one. A Scotland Yard inspector named Abberline (Hugo Weaving) rolls into town, and starts looking about the place with shifty eyes. Lawrence is packed off to an insane asylum, where he is tortured to near insanity by mad Dr. Hoenneger (Antony Sher), who means to cure him of his "wolfman" delusion. Ha ha! you say. Just wait until the next full moon!

Indeed, the education of Dr. Hoenneger provides one of the few satisfying moments in The Wolfman. I was also quite pleased when the deer -- a poor beast tied up so as to lure the werewolf into a trap -- escaped unharmed. But at a certain point in the movie, I realized that I really did not care for any of the characters. Only Gwen is remotely sympathetic, if blindly optimistic. Lawrence is so miserable all the time I couldn't figure out why he didn't just kill himself. And there's one of the problems with The Wolfman. Only Hopkins, who chews the scenery like a lycanthrope tearing into a fresh villager, seems to be in on the joke -- and The Wolfman is pretty much a joke. Hopkins has evident fun as crazy country squire Sir John, who is one bad dad.

As directed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III), The Wolfman is an utterly predictable movie with a split personality, which, I guess, makes some kind of sense given that a werewolf has a split personality too. Lawrence is a genteel artiste tortured by his inner beast (we see glimpses of him playing Hamlet, in case it wasn't clear how haunted and tortured he is). The movie tries to recapture the gothic horror of the original movie, while goosing the action and upping the gore quotient with a lot of special effects. So on the one hand, you get your picturesque English country town full of shifty-eyed villagers who sit around the pub blaming gypsies for everything. And a dark and gloomy mansion set on a dark and gloomy, fog-shrouded moor, with beastly screeches and howls filling the night air. It's all fairly corny, but in a quaint kind of way. But on the other hand, there are a lot of dismemberments and disembowelings, which I like as much as the next person, don't get me wrong. Add to that the creature effects (by special effects makeup master Rick Baker), and all the CGI of those super speedy werewolves cruising the countryside, and something about the old fashioned and newfangled just doesn't mesh, and the whole thing feels wrong and corny in a laughable way. It's neither realistic enough to be worth all the effort, nor exciting and thrilling enough to inspire so much as a shiver of dread.