Benicio Del Toro has always looked like the kind of actor who might at any given moment rip out the heart of a co-star and munch on it raw. There aren’t that many wolfish looking stars in Hollywood, and there’s only so much a pair of chunky sideburns can do, so it’s not hard to see the logic in casting Del Toro as the hairy, howling, silver-averse lead in director Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman.
This remake of the schlocky 1941 film is a nicely shot, solidly acted but resoundingly ho-hum textbook horror period piece. Content to howl along with the archetypal werewolf genre songbook, Johnston plays it straight, with nary a thought about anything new that could be thrown into the mix.
In these days of rampant post modernism, spiffy self-consciousness and prodigious inter-textual references “pure bred” exercises are not necessarily a bad thing, but if a filmmaker wants to tread the well-flogged path of garden variety genre trips they can all too easily find themselves in the kitchen pressing dough with an old, worn out cookie cutter. Such is the case with The Wolfman.
Lawrence (Del Toro) is an American actor who returns to his family home – a grand English country house ran by his surly father (Anthony Hopkins) – after learning of the savage murder of his brother. Lawrence is determined to find his bro’s killer, which, according to public opinion (read: the local pub) is a monstrous beast. Shock horror: they’re exactly right, and when Lawrence gets close to the beast he gets bitten, and once bitten…
You know how it goes. The premise takes a long time to kick in and when it does the story has reached a point at which most of the major plot points can be predicted long before they arrive.
It’s amusing to observe that even with today’s special effects werewolves in suits still look goofy, and they probably always will. Most of Del Toro’s monster scenes present him as a sort of well-dressed Chewbacca en route to a job interview, and while he doesn’t look as hilariously tacky as the Michael J. Fox in Teenwolf (1985) he doesn’t look a lot more convincing either.
In scenes without the CGI body suit Del Toro looks weary, shady and sleep-deprived – he may resemble a wolf but his performance lacks bite. Kudos to Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving for giving some gravity to essentially weightless supporting characters – the brooding father and nonchalant Scotland Yard investigator, respectively.
The Wolfman may be silly and violent but by the genre’s standards it is far from over the top, and it’s probably a worse film because of it. The deadpan performances and bleak colour scheme emphasize that this is a “serious” rehash rather than a tongue in cheek gore-fest. Sadly, it feels way too restrained.
The Wolfman’s Australian theatrical release date: February 11, 2010