Despite eerie look, 'Wolfman' lacks suspense
By BILL GOODYKOONTZ
Gannett News Service
"The Wolfman" probably seemed like a good idea somewhere along the line.
Revisit the 1941 Universal Pictures classic, sign up Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt, toss in Hugo Weaving for good measure — what could go wrong?
A lot, as it turns out. Del Toro is spectacularly miscast, while Hopkins walks through much of the movie. Director Joe Johnston gives the film a satisfyingly spooky look and vibe throughout, particularly scenes set in the woods at night, with the bright light of a full moon as a backdrop. But the movie plays like a missed opportunity, with its by-the-numbers scares and a story that feels disjointed, hurried in some places, slow in others.
Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro), an actor who has been living in America in the late 19th century, arrives at his boyhood home in England to help find his missing brother, Ben. He's greeted, after a fashion, by his estranged father, Sir John Talbot (Hopkins), an odd duck who informs Lawrence that his brother has turned up dead; does he have clothes for the funeral?
Also staying in the crumbling pile is Gwen (Blunt), Ben's fiance.
Lawrence overhears gossip in a pub about Ben cavorting with Gypsies. Surely they must be responsible for his death, the locals say — perhaps the bear they keep is the culprit. Law-rence asks his father about it, but he mostly warns him to stay inside because of the full moon that night.
Instead, Lawrence visits the Gypsy camp, where a strange, fast-moving creature kills several people and wounds him.
Not good, as any late-night movie fan knows. Oddly enough, everyone else seems to know it, too. There's no suspense, no question about the curse that has now befallen Lawrence. When the full moon rises, he'll turn into a wolf-like creature that can only be killed by silver bullets. Abberline (Weaving), a Scotland Yard inspector, arrives to question Lawrence, who is healing awfully quickly for a man so gravely wounded.
After one rampage, the townspeople capture Law-rence, who is placed in the asylum where he spent time as a boy after a traumatic event. Sir John visits with some disturbing revelations, and an arrogant doctor (Michael Cronin) parades Lawrence before a medical theater, with amusingly disastrous results.
Yet this scene also raises questions: Can the werewolf pick and choose his victims, making rational choices? Or is he a mindless savage, killing anyone and anything in front of him? The answer proves elusive.
Gwen, meanwhile, sees hope for Lawrence. Or maybe she loves him, even though she's known him only a short time and for most of that he's been a werewolf. Hard to say. (Insert animal magnetism joke here.) Whatever the case, Lawrence has feelings for her, as well. But to say their relationship faces some challenges is to understate the case considerably.
Del Toro doesn't seem to know how to play Lawrence, so for the most part he doesn't, really. He just plods from one scene to the next. The same is true of Hopkins, who finally stirs a bit in the latter half of the film, but by then it's a little late. Blunt is fine in a limited, though ultimately crucial, role. Only Weaving seems as if he's really trying.
There are things to like here. The look of the werewolf is nicely retro, and the transformation scenes are well done (though they lack the crucial revelation of the ones in "American Werewolf in London," where we learn that the creature's howl is actually a cry of pain). And everything about the Talbot mansion exudes decay and decrepitude; the place reeks of doom.
There is an interesting twist to the story, but it presents more questions than it answers, particularly when it comes to the motivation of one of the characters. And while there are frights and starts, they are predictable.
"The Wolfman" ends up a disappointment, then, somewhat interesting in places, but nothing to howl about.