Even with its relentlessly cliched production design (trenchcoats and flickering candles galore), this raucous gothic thriller deploys enough visual flash to hold our attention. The gigantic effects-heavy action sequences are eye-catching and sometimes exciting, and there are elements of the story that almost begin to resonate before the script veers off in another more simplistic direction.
Based on a graphic novel, the story picks up where Mary Shelley's novel left off, as the monster (Eckhart) is attacked by demons that want to study his non-human existence. He's rescued by gargoyles, angelic protectors of humanity, and taken to their Queen Lenore (Miranda Otto), who names him Adam and enlists him in the demon-killing cause. Although her second-in-command (Courtney) isn't so sure. Over the next 200 years, Adam hones his skills before returning to Lenore just as the demon Prince Naberius (Nighy) is launching his evil plan to re-animate a dead army with the help of sexy scientist Terra (Strahovski) and Dr Frankenstein's journal. In other words, all hell is about to break loose.
Annoyingly, every time the plot begins to get interesting, writer-director Beattie indulges in another vacuous action set piece that's as irrelevant as the 3D. There's a decent story in here about the nature of the human soul, religious fervour and moral tenacity, but the film only uses these things as devices to make the dialog sound intelligent. Which is tricky since Beattie directs his cast to deliver their lines in growling, blurting monotone. Eckhart's voice-over narration is particularly dull. And this over-earnest tone leaves every potential relationship as a non-starter.
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Frankly, if you put Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin in your movie, you don't really need to worry about the script: we'd happily watch them do just about anything on-screen. And here they sieze every hint of humour, drama and action to keep us entertained and make us care about their characters. Indeed, they maintain their dignity by refusing to give in to the screenplay's lazy old-age jokes and convoluted plot.
The story kicks off when Val (Pacino) gets out of prison after 28 years behind bars. His only remaining friend is Doc (Walken), who lets him stay in his humble apartment. But Val wants to get back in the game, and tries to get Doc to abandon his austere retirement. Then Val learns that Doc is only alive because gangster Claphands (Margolis) is forcing him to kill Val on his release - an act of vengeance against both of them. With nothing to lose, they liberate their dying buddy Hirsch (Arkin) from hospital and decide to go out with a bang.
Screenwriter Haidle seems to want this to be a geriatric Apatow-style comedy, as these men continually talk frankly about their sex lives (including of course a tired Viagra joke). But this is more squirm-inducing than amusing. And director Stevens lets the action set-pieces drag on too long, trying to crank up the energy by giving every scene a madcap spin. But none of this was necessary with these actors: they are geniuses at adding zing to even the most weakly written and directed scenes, keeping us engaged by constantly upstaging each other. They may be past their prime, but they prove that there's plenty of life still in them.
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