It's a bad omen when howls of audience laughter replace those of your titular character in the problem-plagued remake of legendary Universal beastie, The Wolfman.
Released on a full moon weekend, this troubled production is one missed opportunity after the next, as yet another creature from the studio's stable of monsters gets a facelift (Francis Ford Coppola had his turn at bat with Dracula back in 1992, followed by Kenneth Branaugh's painfully-earnest-and-just-plain-painful Frankenstein in 1994 and Steve Sommers turned the turgid The Mummy into a silly fun house five years later).
It should be noted that the film's original director parted ways with the production, causing director Joe Johnson (Jurrasic Park 3) to step in and pick up pieces, then began the battle of transformation via computer or old-school prosthetic makeup, all pushing the film's release date further and further into the future.
The result is a neutered mess, featuring phoned-in performances from its two leads, Anthony Hopkins (as Sir John Talbot, an aging patriarch of a cursed clan), Benicio Del Toro (as Lawrence Talbot, his prodigal son who returns to his London home after, judging by his accent, spending a considerable time in the Bronx).
A second premature death in the Talbot tribe beckons Lawrence to his palatial-but-crumbling family estate, where he's greeted by his estranged father and Gwen, his recently widowed sister-in-law-to-be, played with some level of competence by Emily Blunt. Her future husband, Lawrence's brother, was the latest victim of a savage smackdown by some unknown creature tearing up the local population.
Before you can say “McGruff,” Lawrence is trying to take a bite out the crime, but it unfortunately bites back, and Lawrence soon develops rather strange urges when the full moon emerges.
There's a big difference between scares and suspense. The Wolfman has a smattering of the former, perhaps at the expense of the latter. Random characters are spooked, jolted and sacked by some hairy linebacker, random objects are thrust out of the darkness for cheap thrills, and the soundtrack booms calculated to cause audiences' hearts to momentarily skip a beat. There is little consequence to any of it other than an in-the-moment “gotcha!”
Meanwhile, Hopkins wanders as though he's merely awaiting his check to clear, Del Toro (who also produced), mumbles as though he has a mouth of kibble, and the audience is left to look at all the pretty (but inert) renderings of Victorian-era England. The film's setting is of no consequence, though. While it could have been used to contrast the emerging refined lifestyle of the era against the natural, primal tendencies of man, it explores none of this in lieu of…well, not much else. Del Toro certainly fails to give us an idea of a man who has lost his sense of self as is left to just demonstrate a guttural growl and just how paunchy he is under all his tailored duds.
The film drags endlessly (even at under two hours), marked only once by a nifty transformation scene where Lawrence climactically bares his fangs for all to see. But his final form is rather amusing and looks more like a feral Disney World character with a thirst for blood.
When two werewolves go at it, it looks like some strange furry porn that we just should not by privy to, and the hot lupine-on-lupine action is woefully mishandled to the point of comedy.
When watching this remake of The Wolfman, one wishes for the more subtle stylings of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello – hell, I'd even take Michael J. Fox – to add some sort of depth to the picture. Instead, we are left with a mutt that even PETA members would agree should be put out of its misery.