Howlin' 'Wolf'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2002

"BROTHERHOOD of the Wolf," about an 18th-century monster that terrorizes a rural French region, has its moments. In fact, it has too many of them. At 2 hours and 20 minutes and with enough characters to take up a few floors at a big hotel, it feels about an act too long.

Director Christophe Gans's intention is to pump postmodern excitement into the traditional French costume drama. Inspired by real accounts of the Beast of Gevaudan that reportedly killed more than 100 people in the 18th century, he turns "Brotherhood" into a powder-and-wig action flick.

We get the message right away: A French damsel, walking alone through the hilly countryside, is stalked by an unseen (and of course extremely noisy) animal. When the monster  and we never see what it is  grabs her, she's tossed and mauled like a shark victim from "Jaws."

Unfortunately, Gans appears to have no threshold of pain when it comes to his eardrums. I'm sure there have been movies more deafening than this: Many war movies, perhaps. Or anything produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. And there's probably some industrial training film somewhere called "The Pneumatic Road Drill: Know Your Tool."

But "Brotherhood of the Wolf" is too loud to even cry uncle. In that opening scene, it's not the blood that gets to you. It's the sound of the damsel's head being bashed against the rocks. Imagine Godzilla pounding a sack of coconuts repeatedly against a brick wall. Now crank up the volume.

This assault on the eardrums continues as bullets thud into stick-mounted pumpkins (target practice time), swords cleave skulls, flying bodies crash through wooden floors, and high-kicking feet crack ribs. What? Martial arts? In the time of Louis Quinze?

That's right. Reports of the Beast and its victims prompt the king to dispatch Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a Renaissance man, to track this predator. Fronsac brings along Mani (Mark Dacascos), an Iroquois Mohawk he met in Canada who has become his blood brother. To the best of my recollection, Fronsac does not use the phrase "trusted Indian companion." But then again, I was blocking my ears.

Mani is a whiz with the block, chop and roundhouse kick. He's also good with those slow-motion somersaults in the air. This is not very useful when it comes to fighting the reported Beast. But it comes in handy when all manner of bad guys  imagine Gallic 18th-century versions of Sergio Leone villains  come a-brawling.

Many scenes are fun, especially Dacascos's fight sequences, which are choreographed by Philip Kwok. Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen creates some beautiful (although often over-the-top) action sequences, and editors Sebastien Prangere and David Wu really sharpen the action.

But Gans and co-writer Stephane Cabel are not quite as dynamic about the narrative. We spend endless time visiting with all those characters, including two love interests for Fronsac, one for Mani, and enough locals to launch a miniseries. As for the ultimate monster revelation  which I won't give away  I wouldn't say it's especially worth waiting for. Not when you could be using the time to schedule that hearing test.

BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (R, 140 minutes)  Contains nudity and intense violence. In French with subtitles. At Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue Cinemas.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company