Universal Pictures has again lived up to its penchant for remaking superhero and monster films with “The Wolfman,” a remake of the 1940s Lon Chaney Jr. movies of the same name. The film draws some of its best plot elements from its predecessors, but it should have relied more upon the raw acting potential of its accomplished cast instead of its distinction as a “bankable franchise.”

“The Wolfman”

Universal
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Most werewolf enthusiasts who catch the Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park 3”) update will find a veritable paradise of homages to previous works: The romantic side story of “An American Werewolf in London” is there, as are the Gypsy themes, the silver-headed walking stick, the Talbot character and the werewolf visage of Chaney Jr.’s 1941 original. But the one vital quality missing is structure, and the movie flounders miserably through most of its plot as a result.

For starters, we’re introduced to the familiar concepts of werewolf-ism and lycanthropy with laughable juvenility. Cause and effect elements of a plot thread should never draw so much attention to themselves as this, but the story is forced upon us so frenetically that it appears like no more than a series of rapid sequences. Since the filmmakers know this to be an incomplete, introductory format, they supplement it with pedantic dialogue that would be appropriate were we watching a documentary about the history of werewolf lore.

Nothing is quite as irritating as Danny Elfman’s score; it’s as obnoxious as one be Howard Shore, should he ever consume near-lethal doses of cocaine. The music fills the air with an epic disquiet, even during scenes where pure silence would have most effectively heightened the tension. As a result, the audience begins to discuss the shortcomings of the film as it progresses — why must it proclaim its glory to us so earnestly? The true glory of a movie is in its subtleties, those qualities added so seamlessly into the final composite that we scarcely notice them. As anyone whose ears have suffered permanent damage by “The Wolfman” will surely tell you, subtlety is foreign to this hairy, abominable movie.

Surely, the $150 million budget wasn’t all for naught. The scene in which Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro, “Che”) is forcibly displayed to the London aristocracy is absolutely harrowing, and we’re made to feel as haplessly trapped as the nobles when Lawrence undergoes his painful transformation from man to monster. The gore is generous and stylized, and it’s clever and effective in its naked form; in light of that, it’s a shame the final cut was so excessively vested in cheap scares and pretentious music.

Word to the (occasionally) wise men of Universal: When you’ve been endowed with such talent as del Toro, Hugo Weaving (“The Matrix”) and Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Silence of the Lambs”), you should let their knack for proficient performance speak for itself. When the cumbersome presentation of “The Wolfman” causes us to question the storytelling rather than the story, it begins to resemble a parody more than a substantial remake.

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