Woof, Man
by Scott Mantz

“The Wolfman”
Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt,
Anthony Hopkins

Directed by Joe Johnston

Full Moon Fever! Things get hairy for Benicio Del Toro in “The Wolfman”

It’s never a good sign when the release date of a movie – especially a big-budget Hollywood movie – gets moved around several times.  With very few exceptions, like 1997’s top-grossing “Titanic” and 2008’s under-rated “Valkyrie,” it usually means that the studio has a real stinker on its hands.

Such is the case for “The Wolfman,” which seems to have been cursed ever since it was moved from its original release date of November 2008 (yes, 2008).  After three more dates came and went, it finally arrives in theaters on February 12, the same weekend as Valentine’s Day (and the same weekend that a movie called “Valentine’s Day” opens).  Apparently, nothing says “I love you” more than a big hairy werewolf biting somebody’s head off.

But one can’t help but wonder how “The Wolfman” turned out to be such a dog, given the level of talent involved.  Two of its biggest stars are Oscar-winners – Benicio Del Toro for “Traffic” and Anthony Hopkins for “The Silence of the Lambs.”  Andrew Kevin Walker (“Se7en”) and David Self (“Road to Perdition”) co-wrote the screenplay, and six-time Academy Award-winner Rick Baker, who created the groundbreaking transformation sequence in 1981’s “An American Werewolf in London,” did the makeup.

Then there’s director Joe Johnston, who has some pretty strong directing credits to his name, include 1999’s “October Sky” and 2001’s “Jurassic Park III” (he was also the Art Director for Visual Effects on classics like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”).  But direction is a big part of the problem here, since “The Wolfman” is marred by choppy pacing and a real lack of scares, thrills, intensity or fun.

Inspired by the 1941 Universal Studios classic that starred Lon Chaney, Jr., “The Wolfman” tells the story of Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), who returns to his family’s estate to search for his missing brother.  That search turns deadly, when a bite from a vicious creature triggers his transformation into a werewolf whenever the moon is full.  If that’s not enough, Lawrence must also deal with his growing feelings towards his brother’s fiancée (Emily Blunt) and his fractured relationship with his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins).

But the backstory involving Lawrence and his father is so poorly executed that the payoff, when it finally comes, is beyond preposterous.  Hopkins is watchable, but Del Toro gives an extremely weak performance, which is accentuated by his lack of chemistry with the equally bland Emily Blunt.  Of course they can do better, but it doesn’t help that the dialogue they’re forced to work with is banal, pedestrian and trite, while the story itself is largely forgettable.

As with other Universal monsters, like Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy, the story of the Wolfman has been told many times (and in many different ways) over the last 70 years.  But the best of them remains “An American Werewolf in London,” a contemporary update that was clever, funny and, of course, very scary.  While the production values of the new “Wolfman” are top notch (as they should be), it’s such a colossal failure in every other way that Lon Chaney Jr. must be howling in his grave.