Saturday, October 30, 2004

Spooky Friday and some scary DVD reviews!. I watched "Van Helsing" so you don't have to.

‘Van Helsing’
“Van Helsing” wants to be a goofy monster mash — instead, it’s a soggy monster mush.
This movie’s failure to entertain on almost every level offends me, because I’m a big fan of the old Universal 1930s and ’40s monster movies this draws so much inspiration from. Just like a vampire, “Van Helsing” sucks out the brains, mood and heart from those movies and replaces it with nonstop computerized mayhem.
What really irks is that it’s not a bad idea for a movie, updating those classic characters for a new era. But did it have to be done in such a hyperactive, uninvolving way?
Hugh Jackman is Van Helsing, a mysterious monster-slayer working for the Catholic church in the late 1800s. He’s sent to Transylvania, where the evil Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) is working on a nasty plot to create millions of new vampires, using Frankenstein’s Monster (Shuler Hensley) and a werewolf (Will Kemp) as tools. Van Helsing teams up with vampire-hater Anna (Kate Beckinsale) as mayhem breaks out.
Most of the blame for “Van Helsing’s” failure can be laid squarely at the feet of writer/director Stephen Sommers. Sommers is also responsible for the recent “Mummy” movies, the first one of which was decent popcorn fun, the second overblown and exhausting wall-to-wall computer tomfoolery.
Sommers obviously didn’t learn anything from “The Mummy Returns,” because “Van Helsing” has all that flick’s problems and then some. You’ve got an incoherent script (the Frankenstein monster is being used to bring baby vampires to life — huh?) and uniformly terrible, plastic-looking and fake special effects.
“Van Helsing” also features some of the worst acting I’ve seen in a movie this year. Beckinsale and Roxburgh are particularly horrible — Roxburgh’s swishy Dracula is more campy than frightening — and Jackman appears to be sleepwalking through the flick for the paycheck. The dangerous menace of his Wolverine in the “X-Men” movies is sorely missed.
“Van Helsing” is so relentlessly over-the-top that it might’ve worked as parody, or the “so bad it’s good” realm. But Sommers takes this slop so seriously that it’s hard for an intelligent person to watch the movie without laughing.
Frankly, I’d rather watch a non-computerized, spooky old classic like 1931’s “Frankenstein” for the tenth time than this vapid, brainless nonsense again.
* of four

‘The Day After Tomorrow’
“Global warming” might not be the most terrifying monster to ever stalk the screen. But in “The Day After Tomorrow,” it’s got horrible consequences.
Climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) has discovered evidence that man’s actions are going to create a new Ice Age. But disaster strikes a lot sooner than Hall expects, as sudden changes in climate devastate North America, with tornadoes in Los Angeles, icebergs in New York.
But for Hall, nothing’s more important than reuniting with his teenage son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), trapped in an ice-bound Manhattan.
“Tomorrow” is openly a B-grade disaster movie, and I have a soft spot for skyscrapers toppling and landmarks being wiped out. The template is straight from ’70s flicks like “Earthquake!” There’s some pretty jaw-droppingly cool effects as Los Angeles is erased and New York is submerged.
However, “Tomorrow” also slows down enough to involve you in the story. I enjoyed seeing Quaid and Gyllenhaal, neither of whom are traditional action-hero material. They bring solid heft to even the silliest of scenes.
“Tomorrow” blows stuff up in highly entertaining ways, but it doesn’t hold together very well. There’s some attempts to give the story an environmental moral, and the vice president of the United States is a clear ringer for Dick Cheney, but “Tomorrow” lacks teeth.
The climate changes we see don’t really hold up to serious thought. And as is typical for one of these movies where millions of people supposedly are killed, there’s no real sense of loss or trauma.
Like director Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day” or “Godzilla,” “Tomorrow” can’t follow through a decent buildup with a good resolution. Things get more and more ridiculous (one word: wolves) and the disastrous climate change is never really “fixed.” It feels unfinished.
It’s a shame, because it takes what has been a pretty entertaining movie and makes it unfulfilling in the end.
**1/2 of four

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