One of the greatest horror classics was “The Wolf Man” (1941), in which Lon Chaney Jr. (son of the silent film icon Lon Chaney) played a hulking, mythological creature known as the lycanthrope or werewolf. So it’s understandable why actor/producer Benicio del Toro (“Traffic,” “Che”) was eager to pay homage in a gothic remake. Set in 1891, he plays Lawrence Talbot, a British nobleman/Shakespearean actor who returns home to Blackmoor, arriving at the decaying Victorian estate belonging to his estranged father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), at the request of his missing brother’s distraught fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt).
When his brother’s body is found, brutally mutilated on the misty moors, the superstitious townsfolk are terrified. And Lawrence learns first-hand about an ancient curse that turns men into wolves when the moon is full. Horrified, he all-too-gradually realizes his gruesome, demonic destiny, as does Aberline (Hugo Weaving), a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector, and Malvena (Geraldine Chaplin), an old Gypsy woman. What an identity crisis!
Adapted from Curt Siodmak’s original script by Andrew Kevin Walker (“Se7en,” “Sleepy Hollow”), then totally re-written with ludicrous, clichéd lines of dialogue by David Self (“Road to Perdition,” “Thirteen Days”) it’s unfortunately unfocused, conflicted and bizarrely edited. Apparently, after the original director, Mark Romanek, inexplicably departed and Joe Johnson (“Jumanji,” “Jurassic Park 3”) took over, much of the darkly troubled father/son drama was compromised in favor of agonizing, nightmarish insane-asylum sequences and heavy-handed CGI special effects. Not that there’s anything wrong with make-up wizard Rick Baker’s shaggy monsters, although they do somewhat resemble Chewbacca, the Wookie from “Star Wars.” But the result is a defanged hybrid that loses its effectiveness, despite the enthusiastic histrionics put forth by Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt’s subtlety and ever-brooding Benicio Del Toro, who, mystifyingly, is the only actor who speaks without a British accent. Apparently, Lawrence spent time with an aunt in America. Whatever.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Wolfman” is a snarling, savage yet ultimately silly 6. Where are those silver bullets when you need them?