January 24, 2014

I, Frankenstein

starhalf

A movie review by James Berardinelli



I, Frankenstein

ACTION:

United States/Australia, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-01-24

Running Length:

1:32

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney, Socratis Otto

Director:

Stuart Beattie

Screenplay:

Stuart Beattie, based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux

Cinematography:

Ross Emery

Music:

Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek

U.S. Distributor:

Lionsgate

Subtitles:

none


"From the producers of Underworld." Hmmm. Is that supposed to get me excited? Truth be told, such a tag line might be effective because, as pointless and shallow as the Underworld films are, they have a devoted following. Sadly, as apt as comparisons to Underworld might seem, I, Frankenstein can't even clear that very low bar. The problem is as much an issue of pacing and tone as it is one of conception. And the absence of Kate Beckinsale in a skin-tight suit (coupled with the PG-13 rating) might have something to do with it.

For a graphic novel-inspired production that should be steeped in an over-the-top aesthetic, I, Frankenstein comes across as a grim slog. It's no fun. Everyone takes this way too seriously. One could successfully argue that the problem with I, Frankenstein isn't that it's ludicrous but that the filmmakers don't seem to realize it's ludicrous. This production is suffused with a perpetual gloom that would be better suited to Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment, indeed - at least the "punishment" part is accurate for those who see this.

Aaron Eckhart. Bill Nighy. Miranda Otto. Three names that seem to offer at least the hope of something worthwhile. Alas, there are times when even the best of actors must accept the least appealing roles in order to pay their bills. I suppose it's fair to state that I, Frankenstein is a better movie for their participation but that's damning with faint praise. Watching this movie, I felt sorry for all three. When you like an actor, you never want to watch them in something this ugly.

The sad thing is that there's a nugget of real promise in the premise. Consider this idea: What if Victor Frankenstein's tortured creature (Eckhart) didn't perish in the arctic during the waning years of the 18th century? What if, cursed with immortality, he survived into the modern era? The problem doesn't come from the conceit behind I, Frankenstein but from the frankly moronic trajectory in which the story progresses. This isn't about a lonely, isolated creature trying to make his way in an ever-changing world. It's about a mystical being caught in a war between demons and gargoyles. I guess this makes for a change-of-pace from vampires and werewolves but monsters in films like this are so generic that it doesn't much matter.

Eckhart plays Frankenstein's creation as cross between a brooding superhero and Rambo. Despite being the human equivalent of a thrift store mix-and-match collection, he's pretty buff and agile. Too bad about the scars but at least he doesn't have to deal with the head bolts. He even attracts the eye of a pretty blond scientist (Yvonne Strahovski, from Chuck and Dexter) whose purpose for being in the film is to be pretty and blond. Bill Nighy gets a few scenery-chewing moments as the king of the demons, but they're not nearly enough to provide relief from the tedium. As the queen of the gargoyles, Miranda Otto shows up to collect her paycheck.

The movie's "theology" is half-baked and contradictory. The storyline frequently makes no sense and, on those occasions when it does, one almost wishes it didn't. The whole climax-to-ending portion of the movie hinges on a number of idiot plot devices that are so shockingly dumb that their value for unintentional comedy is surpassed only by the dialogue. I'll give director Stuart Beattie credit for a few inspired visuals, a couple of nicely choreographed fight scenes, and… well… not much else. Seeing I, Frankenstein in converted 3-D isn't the way to go - it looks muddy and the added dimension subtracts from the viewing experience. Even an avowed 3-D hater like me is forced to admit that the process has made steps forward in the last couple of years. From a 3-D perspective, I, Frankenstein looks like it was made in 2012.

Although the most obvious comparison for this misfire is Underworld, it's actually closer to Van Helsing in terms of committing unpardonable sins against a classic monster (although, to be fair, I, Frankenstein only assassinates Mary Shelley's creation rather than the entire Universal stable). Grade-Z movies like this aren't necessarily supposed to be good but the expectation is that at least they'll be fun. I, Frankenstein is so badly constructed that the finished production echoes its lead character: a cobbled together assemblage of ill-fitting pieces that results in something grotesque.

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