Monday, January 27, 2014

It's Dead! - Seriously one-note "I, Frankenstein" pretty bad, and not in a fun way

I, Frankenstein (2014)
100 min., rated PG-13.

Oh, what's in a name? "I, Frankenstein" may involve Mary Shelley's soulless, stitched-together monster created by Victor Frankenstein, but being based on the Darkstorm Studios graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (who created the story for "Underworld"), it's just dully derivative of those four vampires-vs.-werewolves horror-fantasy actioners. The sort of joyless, unimaginative assembly-line product Hollywood studios hide from critics in the frigid wasteland of January, this dopey, monotonous CG-athon sorely lacks energy, interest, a sense of fun, and good ideas, and yet it all cost $65 million to make. "I, Frankenstein" is so silly, yet played on such one note of deadly seriousness that it's irksome no one involved decided to include at least a glimmer of humor or even a fright. It's pretty bad, and it doesn't even have the decency to be bad in a fun way.

Adapted by director Stuart Beattie (2010's "Tomorrow, When the War Began") from its source of the same name, the picture doesn't really seem to be interested in its own monster, getting everything we already know from horror lore out of the way in the opening. Frankenstein's angry monster (played by a strangely miscast Aaron Eckhart) was created and then rejected. After murdering Victor's wife and then burying its frozen-to-death creator, the living corpse is attacked by demons before being saved by gargoyles. Gargoyle queen Lenore (Miranda Otto) names the monster "Adam" and invites him to join the archangel-created gargoyles to battle all the demons on Earth in the shadows, but he goes off to battle them on his own. Centuries later, demon prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) disguises himself as a human suit, and having respected electrophysiologist, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), experiment with reanimation, he intends to end all mankind with an infinite army of corpses. The supposedly mythical Dr. Frankenstein's journal may hold the key, as well as Adam, who is more human than he realizes.

"I, Frankenstein" is a man-made movie, yes, but it's such a chore to endure rather than well-made entertainment that it exists when it didn't have to. Poker-faced to the point of being dour and turgid, the film is virtually an uninspired regurgitation of 2003's identically gloomy and self-serious, albeit slightly more enjoyable, "Underworld." Frankenstein's monster is plunked into a war between demons and gargoyles, but the unnamed Eastern European city is seemingly populated by people who are agoraphobics and never leave their homes (or the one night club that is shown), so there's a goose egg at stake. The demons' heads look like the lizard-like Sleestaks from the '90s TV series "Land of the Lost," and the human guises of the gargoyles (including Jai Courtney) look dressed for an old episode of the defunct "Xena: Warrior Princess." Stitched together from nine different corpses, Adam really resembles a physically scarred man with a lean physique. Uncharacteristically for Eckhart, he is a bore, jabbering on in voice-over and lumbering through this humorless role as if he were having no fun. As nothing more is asked of him apart from the physical demands, he certainly worked out for the part, but to what end? Looking more and more like Jodie Foster, Otto should be credited for keeping a straight face and not rolling her eyes when trying to sell mouthfuls of risible exposition and existential thematics ("God is no longer the sole creator of Man"). As Lenore, she makes it seem as if there's deeper emotion or actual history between her gargoyle queen and Adam than there really is. As the only human female, Strahovski is asked to mostly live in a lab coat and be pretty without creating any other defining traits out of Terra. Finally, Nighy, not far off from his steely role in the "Underworld" movies, makes anything better just by showing up. He also lends the only intentional laugh in a line about Adam's glass-breaking entrance.

Made entirely of set dressing and crumbly CGI, the production should certainly look like a million bucks. Alas, it's a lifeless cacophony of cheesy, cheap-looking fireball effects and anemic action done in either fast swishes or overdone slow-motion. Save for some okay gothic architecture and a menacing, momentarily cool composition of the demons' silhouettes multiplying in the moonlight, everything is aesthetically dreary and bland rather than atmospheric. Plenty of demons get stabbed and explode into fiery ashes, descending into hell, while murdered angels ascend into the bright heavens. The extermination of the former seems all rather easy, but the sight of it is gnarly in a tacky way before fast becoming repetitive. Bound to please no one but Comic-Con junkies with the lowest expectations, "I, Frankenstein" is utterly devoid of dazzling spectacle, a story one wants to invest their time in, or the most minimal bright spot to recommend it, resulting in a colossal drag of rote, empty nothingness happening on the screen. Again, it takes itself so damn seriously that it makes "Man of Steel" look like a comedy by comparison. The film didn't have to be overtly self-aware, but despite Frankie's beast being dead, shouldn't he keep his tongue firmly in his cheek after kicking it with Abbott and Costello?

Grade: C -

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