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Entries in Wolves [2014] (1)

Thursday
Nov132014

Wolves (2014)

Spay It, Don't Spray It

I'd never seen Jason Momoa in anything before Wolves. I skipped his Conan remake and Bullet to the Head, and haven't yet delved into Game of Thrones.* Batman v Superman is over a year away, so I have no idea what kind of Aquaman he'll be. If this film is any indication, the actor will surprise a lot of people: wreck or revelation, the 2016 superhero mash-up already has at least one thing going for it.

If there's a reason to see Wolves (and there's not), it's for Momoa's ability to turn a half-note villain into a mesmerizing screen presence. He creates a vortex of cool that pulls attention away from all the lame, nonsensical tween-calibre drama around him, and rewards the audience for their saintly patience. At ninety mintes, Wolves feels seven hours too long. But like Interstellar's deep-space wormhole, time acts differently in the Momoa Vortex: it's a safe-haven for those of us who just want to get on with the story, aided by a good, ol' fashioned, interesting performance.

The rest of the movie? Woof. Writer/director David Hayter arrives at the pop party four years too late, delivering, essentially, "Twilight with Werewolves"* Throw in a pinch of Friday Night Lights, a dash of The Incredible Hulk TV show, and a whole (whooole) lot of The Lost Boys, and you have the story of teen werewolf Cayden Richards (Lucas Till). He discovers the beast within while losing his virginity, and awakens to find that he's murdered his parents (to be clear, these incidents are entirely unrelated).

While on the run, he discovers the sleepy town of Lupine Ridge, where a canine cold war has kept two factions of wolf-people (pure-breds versus half-breeds) from tearing each other apart. Cue the wise farmer with loads of secrets (Stephen McHattie); the spunky, distrusting bar tender/inevitable love interest (Merritt Patterson), and our hero's dramatic speech(es) about not cutting and running, the complexities of family, and...some other stuff that ultimately doesn't matter.

Wolves isn't necessarily a bad movie; it's just a movie that's unnecessary. Why should audiences settle for Sci-Fi Channel-level CG wolf transformations, lousy (though admittedly hilarious) green-screen motorcycle-riding shots, and middling violence and nudity--when there are literally dozens of better-crafted, more engaging, and viscerally stimulating versions of this exact same story at their fingertips?

Sidestepping a bit, those transformations beg the question, "Have clothed werewolves ever been scary?" The wolves in Wolves look flat-out ridiculous, mostly because they spend most of the time in un-shredded outfits, jumping around at each other like Propecia-addicted X-Men. While it's amusing to see Wolf-Cayden retain that same blonde flock-of-seagulls haircut, even after the rest of his body has sprouted dark brown hair, I couldn't help but wonder what the director and makeup effects artists' intention was with this look. This movie's creatures look goofy. True, I wouldn't want to meet any of them in a dark forest, but aside from Momoa's character, the pre- and post-transformation residents of Lupine Ridge registered a negative ten on my intimidation scale.

Like its main character, Wolves suffers from a soul-crushing identity crisis. On one hand, it seems Hayter wants to deliver an R-rated horror film that stands out from the young-adult adventures and PG-13 horror stinking up the multiplex. But he also desperately needs those young eyeballs, and has doused his movie in a flat, made-for-TV gloss and pubescent pouting that will repel hard-core horror fans. Not that there's much to spoil, but Wolves ends with two people riding out of town on a motorcycle, armed with an ancient scroll of werewolf lineage to help them on their cross-country travels; it's literally the setup for a TV show.*** 

In the end, I'm glad I finally discovered Jason Momoa. This is a great calling card for what he can do and, I'd wager, an indication of what he will do--which is not, hopefully, more movies like Wolves.

*No cable, no time.

**Yes, Twilight already has werewolves. Yes, MTV has already gone down this road with its Teen Wolf series. Yes, Teen Wolf is a grim 'n gritty take on a thirty-year-old movie. The cycle of the moon is complete.

***Till even bears a weird resemblance to Jared Padalecki, star of The CW's spooky-road-trip series Supernatural.