After being cursed by delays The Wolfman Hollywood’s latest spin on the popular werewolf myth finally bares its ugly fangs in theaters this week. Predictably the film is a train wreck of a debacle -- one would expect nothing less from a notoriously troubled production that saw its original director Mark Romanek abandon ship just two weeks before the start of shooting -- but The Wolfman’s problems stem less from the late-game addition of helmer Joe Johnston who at the very least delivered a terrific looking film (its gorgeously eerie Victorian aesthetic evoking a palpable exquisite sense of dread is by far its best feature) than from the misguided efforts of its producer and star Benicio Del Toro.
The Wolfman is the brainchild of Del Toro an ardent horror fan who conceived the film as an homage of sorts to the low-budget “monster movies” from the ‘30s and ‘40s that he loved dearly as a child. It’s fashioned as a loose remake of 1941’s The Wolf Man a film that both established Lon Chaney Jr.’s performance as the definitive take on the character and introduced aspects of the werewolf legend now considered sacrosanct. The notion that a werewolf can be felled by an item made from silver for example owes its origin to The Wolf Man.
But Del Toro feels all wrong in the role of Lawrence Talbot the prodigal son of a 19th-century English aristocrat whose fateful encounter with a bloodthirsty lycan the same creature that brutally murdered his brother just days prior triggers his unwitting initiation into the accursed tribe of feral man-beasts. Del Toro's resume of low-key understated performances marked by a muttering often imperceptible delivery in films like Traffic and The Usual Suspects suggests a skill set better suited to playing another famous movie monster one significantly less loquacious than his character in this movie. Seriously -- the guy should have remade Frankenstein instead.
Playing an American-bred (but English-born we’re told) character in an 1890 setting looking uncomfortable in period attire surrounded by such “proper” British actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt and fully annunciating all of his line readings for the first time that I can recall Del Toro appears hopelessly out of place in The Wolfman.
Things only get worse unfortunately when Del Toro’s character transforms into the dreaded werewolf. Each time the moon is full the film transitions with increasing ridiculousness from a somber Victorian drama into a hard-core horror flick replete with grisly shots of torn flesh exposed spines and severed limbs. The first overly gruesome attack triggers a kind of nervous laugh more from the shock than anything else. The second invites an amused uneasy chuckle which soon snowballs into an outright belly laugh. And the effect soon spreads to the dialogue the outrageous gore rendering the film's mannered melodrama strangely hysterical.
Of all the Wolfman players only Hopkins seems to get the joke reveling in his manipulative mischief as Talbot's inappropriately glib stoutly aloof father. If only he'd let his castmates in on it.
Former cellmates Michael (Russell) and Murphy (Costner) are leaders of a posse that plans to pull off the heist of a lifetime: robbing the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during International Elvis Week. This means of course adopting full-on spangled jumpsuits sunglasses and "thank yuh thank yuh vurry much"-es. But when Murphy turns against the crew to keep all the loot for himself Michael escapes with it instead and heads for the border to launder it. He's sidelined along the way by a dalliance with a grifter (Courteney Cox) and her young son. Meanwhile Murphy's hot on his trail.
Costner turned down the chance to play Russell's part to take on the villain instead - and he looks like he's having the time of his life. Less filled out but more amoral than his baddie in the underrated "A Perfect World " Costner bats well as a foil to Russell who shows a barely visible vulnerability under the necessary roughness. Cox to her credit does a complete 180 from her uptight role on "Friends" as the sexually aggressive con-chick Cybil. Christian Slater David Arquette and Bokeem Woodbine make small appearances as part of the Elvis crew Howie Long and Ice-T kick some tail and Kevin Pollak and the long-absent Thomas Haden Church ("Wings") provide comic relief as bumbling lawmen.
"3000 Miles to Graceland" may seem like a caper reminiscent of last month's "Snatch " except there's a lot of bloodshed particularly during the casino robbery where machine gun blasts fling people across the room to land on cha-ching!-ing slot machines. Novice director Demian Lichtenstein's music video background is evident in his Guy Ritchie-esque cuts zooms and a way-bizarre computerized scorpion fight that kicks off the movie (what was that about?). His style and the Vegas ambience give the film a kitschy edge that disappears once the guys shed their Elvis garb. Stay for the credits - you'll see a costumed Russell lip-synching in his own music video as Costner Cox and crew dance about.
Cameron (Summer Glau) looks pretty good after her season-finale explosion, with just a cut on her face. She picks herself back up and drags her way to rescue Sarah (Lena Headey) and John (Thomas Dekker) from some gun-toting intruders. The intruders pick up the hard drive our heroes worked so hard to steal last year, and of course the scuffle leads to the whole house burning down. That’s just collateral damage in the Terminator world.
Uh-oh, it looks like Cameron’s reprogrammed herself to terminate John. That’s not good. Luckily that house fire blows her away, so Sarah and John can escape. Meanwhile, Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt) lets Agent Ellison (Richard T. Jones) go after he’d terminated the whole SWAT team at the motel pool. That’s odd. Cromartie leaves the body of George Laslo, the identity he stole, to take the fall for the motel shootout.
On the run, Sarah gets distracted and crashes the car, leaving the duo to limp away from an also limping Cameron. Charley Dixon (Dean Winters), Sarah’s former paramedic beau, leaves the scene of the motel and follows a call to the Connor house fire. He finds the two burned bodies of the intruders, and an incognito Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green), who fills him--and us--in on the exposition of the Turk chess computer from last season. It’s the program that provides the initial basis of Skynet’s artificial intelligence. Got that?
Now we meet Catherine Weaver (Garbage singer Shirley Manson), who’s making a deal to buy the Turk. That’ll pay off later. Elsewhere, Cameron cleans up with baby wipes and staples her face back together. (Gotta love Terminator first aid!) She finds Charley and Derek following leads on Sarah and John, so they are in double pursuit. Her limping stagger kind of looks like Arnold going in slow motion in the movies. It’s intense.
Sarah and John find a church in which they can nurse their wounds and hide out. John realizes how powerful the now-evil Cameron is, with all her knowledge of the Connors. Out of anger, John jams a knife into the table; anyone who obsessed over T2 should appreciate that. They come up with a nifty plan to shock Cameron when she comes looking for them. They try to carve out her CPU chip (remember the director’s cut of T2!) but run out of time, so she wakes up even more pissed. John and Sarah try to flee by stolen van, but Cameron overturns their vehicle!
The chase continues like an epic Terminator chase. All attempts to stop Cameron fail, so the heroes flee, despite increasing injuries. There are even more loving homages to lines from the films for fans. Sarah ultimately helps incapacitate Cameron, giving John the chance to shut down Cameron. Cameron protests, even begs and pleads with human-like fear, insisting she’s fixed herself and she’s good again. As a last resort, she professes love! John pauses, but pulls the chip.
John still has some questions about Cameron, feeling that she must be different if his future self sent her back. He almost incinerates her but reinserts her chip to find out for sure if her new emotions were real or fake. He gives her a gun to test her. Her POV does show an order to terminate, but she overrides it and wins back John’s trust. The stakes of this drama are amazingly high. I mean, if you’re believing in a world of Terminators, the idea of the most important human putting his life in an assassin robot’s hands is staggering. And clearly, this is a defining moment for John. He is not the same after it.
Sarah and Cameron talk religion, and Cameron tells her never to let John bring her back if she goes bad again. Sarah offers the best apology she’s able to as John reveals he’s cut his hair, just in case you didn’t get that this is a new John.
Throughout this, Ellison gets a few scenes. He answers all his superior’s debriefing questions with “I don’t know.” He confronts Cromartie again, insisting he’ll never help him find the Connors, but Cromartie seems to have a plan.
With her Turk, Weaver announces a new division for her company. An employee complains about her new decision in the men’s room, and she rises out of the urinal as a liquid metal T-1000 to kill him.
This could really be the best episode in what is already my favorite series on TV. The pilot was amazing for showing Terminator action, redefining the timeline legitimately, and just bringing back Sarah. Dungeons and Dragons was awesome for future war stuff, but man, this Cameron chase, character decisions and introducing the ultimate movie villain step it up to the next level. So yeah, there’s a T-1000 running a computer company. Cameron could flip her good/evil switch at any time. John’s dissing his mom (who, don’t forget, is the title of the show), and Ellison is about to become a free agent. Wow!