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The Wolfman

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The Wolfman
Released on Friday, Feb 12 2010

As has become his trademark, Benicio del Toro indulges in a lot of moody, barely comprehensible growling in The Wolfman, though this time it's at least appropriate for the role. Still, he looks out of sorts in the middle of this gothic horror (inspired by the '40s B-movie) and it's not just the sore throat, sudden sprouting of claws and itchy five o'clock shadow that happens every time there's a full moon. It's the fact that he gets completely lost in the woods; bumping into clichés whilst struggling to make sense of a script that tries to pass off bad storytelling as dark mystery.

A quick bit of blood-splatter in the opening minutes precedes the arrival of Lawrence Talbot (del Toro), who after years of being away, returns to his family estate in the gloomy Victorian countryside. It turns out that the victim of the attack (by a beast unseen) was his own dear brother, but director Joe Johnston (er, Jumanji...) skirts over this very important detail too quickly. Ostensibly, Lawrence has come back to find out what happened to him, but it feels like a convenient plot device instead of a devastating tragedy. Lawrence does some obligatory mooching around the mansion and swaps dirty looks with his austere dad Sir John (a leering Anthony Hopkins).

Lawrence is also distracted by the presence of his brother's grieving fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt), but the truth is that she doesn't look too distressed whenever Lawrence is around; making the moony eyes at him (careful, he bites!) and pouting rather more than is necessary. With the aid of a few flashbacks, we see that Gwen bares an uncanny resemblance to Lawrence's mother who was savaged when he was just a boy. It doesn't take Dr. Freud to work out that love is in the air, but so is the stench of death. The local rabble is roused by the upping body count, though Johnston protects his 15 certificate by not showing too much of that nasty business.

Instead, there's more posturing in the shadows. Lawrence deliberately keeps a low profile as the villagers light their torches and come looking for him (because he's new in town) and, after waking up one morning dripping with blood, he reckons they may have a point. It's abundantly clear, however, that daddy also has blood on his hands. It's Sir John who finds him in a state of disarray, waking him from slumber with the soft utterance of 'Lawrencessssss...?' that brings to mind Hannibal Lecter musing on a choice of wine to go with his cheese... It appears the real crime here is that a lot of fine actors have had their work ripped to shreds in the editing room.

As the detective sniffing out the Wolfman's trail, Hugo Weaving doesn't have much to do except raise an eyebrow knowingly every now and then; though he's always ten steps behind the drooling villagers. In the league of on-screen cat-and-mouse games, this one has the pace to match an episode of Bagpuss in exaggerated stop-motion. And the love affair between Lawrence and Gwen is just as soft and fluffy. In fact, all of the darker themes associated with werewolf legend - including the uncontrollable animal lust - are cooled down. This is very much the adolescent version and while the special effects and occasional chase scenes might be enough to pacify the younger crowd, grown-ups will find it curiously bloodless.


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