Del Toro's at the back of the pack
By Rick Warner
Friday, Feb. 12, 2010
The arms and legs begin to stretch. The hands turn into razor-sharp claws. The teeth grow jagged, the head and body sprout coarse hair and the eyes gleam with a ferocious killer's stare. Benicio Del Toro's creepy transformation from man to beast is the highlight of "The Wolfman," an otherwise uninspired remake of the 1941 horror classic starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the poor sucker who becomes a werewolf after being bitten by one.
Chaney was typecast as a monster after that. Del Toro, who won an Oscar for "Traffic," better hope that viewers forget his cheesy performance here as soon as possible. Director Joe Johnston, whose eclectic rsum includes "October Sky" and "Jurassic Park III," pulls out all the stops to make us scream and bite our tongues. Quick cuts build tension. Thumping, ominous music warns us when something terrifying is about to happen. Special effects make the werewolf's bloody attacks look even more savage. (If severed heads and chopped-off arms disturb you, don't even think about buying a ticket.)
Yet it's all too predictable and by the book. Even with a few plot twists that aren't in the original, I was hardly shocked or awed. While it's sleeker and more sophisticated than the Chaney version, this new "Wolfman" isn't any scarier.
Unlike the original, which was set in 20th-century Wales, the remake takes place in Victorian England, where celebrated actor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) returns home after a long absence to help find his missing brother. Soon after arriving, he learns that his brother is the latest victim of a vicious creature -- or possibly deranged human -- that has been killing and mutilating local residents.
As a Scotland Yard inspector (Hugo Weaving) searches for the culprit, Talbot tries to reconnect with his aloof father, Sir John (a white-bearded Anthony Hopkins), who sent the boy to America after he was traumatized by his mother's death. Sir John, it turns out, is hiding a ghastly secret that will lead to the ultimate family feud.
Lawrence is on friendlier terms with his late brother's fiancee (the fetching Emily Blunt), who demonstrates amazing understanding when he starts to walk on the wild side. Most men can only fantasize about a woman who isn't disgusted by crooked teeth, carpeted chests and unclipped nails. Some of the villagers blame the attacks on Gypsies, who struck me as rather harmless, excluding their annoying habit of making cryptic predictions by candlelight.
By the way, the Wolfman's piercing howl doesn't come from a wolf. The filmmakers got the sound they were looking for from an opera singer they discovered at a Los Angeles audition. What, they couldn't find old tapes of Wolfman Jack?
Warner is the movie critic for Bloomberg News.
Contains bloody horror violence.