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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 31 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 05
Glossy Frankenstein an uninspired underworld clone
Arts & Entertainment
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Glossy Frankenstein an uninspired underworld clone

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Nicknamed Adam (Aaron Eckhart) by an immortal Gargoyle named Leonore (Miranda Otto) and tasked by the angels of Heaven to protect the human world from Hell's demonic hordes, Frankenstein's Monster has walked the Earth for over 200 years trying to survive. Tired of being hunted, he decides to take the fight to those who stalk him, hoping to find the mysterious demon Naberius (Bill Nighy) and discover once and for all why he's so important to him.

That's the nuts and bolts of I, Frankenstein, and while a ton more is going on, it's safe to say the basic plot mechanics don't go a heck of lot deeper than that. If anything, the movie basically rehashes the Underworld playbook letter for letter, Gargoyles substituting for werewolves while Demons take the place of the vampire hordes. The difference? The change comes with the addition of Mary Shelley's creation in the middle of this mess, the supposedly soulless monster having to decide if he cares about humanity's survival or if instead he'd be fine seeing them wiped off the face of the planet, letting hellfire and damnation be the new rules everyone remaining lives by.

The Underworld connection isn't a surprise. The film, written and directed by Stuart Beattie (30 Days of Night, Collateral), is based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (who appears here as one of Naberius' enforcers), one of the main cogs that helped create that four-film franchise alongside Len Wiseman. His concept and story follow that series' core plot dynamics pretty much down the line, sticking with the adage about not fixing unbroken things, even if not making the attempt doesn't do this latest enterprise all that many favors.

Not that I, Frankenstein is terrible. It isn't. The film is well cast and has a glossy, sometimes giddy, B-movie sheen to it that's certainly intoxicating. Beattie, initially at least, makes the attempt to give the characters center stage, allowing them to develop, if not believably, close enough to being so, that the gothic comic book influences stuffing this thing to the brim don't overwhelm the senses to the point they could potentially annoy. He keeps the pace moving, but not to the point the narrative twists into nonsensical absurdist knots, and while nothing happening is a surprise, it all develops reasonably well enough I never felt my intelligence was being belittled.

That does not make anything that takes place during the confines of the film's brisk 93 minutes anything close to smart or profound. I, Frankenstein is dumb. Stop. End-of-story. End-of-sentence. And, most of all, end-of-discussion. Much of the scenario has about all the profundity of a SyFy Channel fantasy-adventure (sadly with special effects to match), everything climaxing with a resounding thud that kept echoing throughout the theatre long after the screen faded to black. The final battle between gargoyle and demon has all the urgency and the passion of a pent-up yawn: whether or not I could stifle mine the most exciting thing I felt while I sat there watching it.

I liked Eckhart as Adam/Frankenstein's Monster, and Otto is, if you'll excuse the wording, a divine choice to be the leader of Heaven's gargoyle warriors. There's also a nice bit of support from former Chuck star Yvonne Strahovski as a scientist thrust into the middle of a war she can barely comprehend; even though she's suddenly, and inadvertently, the key towards tilting the tide towards the bad guys, she and Eckhart having solid chemistry. But the rest of the secondary cast, notably Jack Reacher and A Good Day to Die Hard newcomer Jai Courtney, are left out to dry with little to do, while Nighy more or less phones in the same performance he gave in the Underworld films.

I've made no secret of the fact I've gotten a kick out of those Underworld efforts, all of them (save maybe the third one) relatively absurd guilty pleasures I almost can't help but enjoy. But with I, Frankenstein, whatever spell that series has upon me hasn't been transferred into the marrow of this new motion picture, so much of the film a moderately tedious slog to nowhere that barely held my interest, until the overly frenetic finale. For all the whiz, for all the attempts at bang, this is one franchise starter I seriously doubt is going to a sequel (raised electrified back to life from the dead) anytime soon.

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