[Screen It]

"THE LAST WITCH HUNTER"
(2015) (Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Horror: A warrior, cursed with immortality 800 years ago, is called upon to save modern-day Earth from a resurrected Witch Queen.
PLOT:
In the 13th century, a warrior named Kaulder (VIN DIESEL) leads a group of other dedicated men into the lair of the Witch Queen (JULIE ENGELBRECHT), who has cursed all the lands with the Black Plague and wants to eradicate humanity. They fight valiantly, and Kaulder buries his sword into the lead creature. But in her death throes, the Witch Queen curses him to immortality.

Flash forward to the modern day, and we learn that Kaulder has been in the service of the Catholic Church for centuries, killing and imprisoning witches who are both female and male. He has been assigned a succession of handlers over the past eight centuries, and his current one, Dolan 36th (MICHAEL CAINE), has reached retirement age and is handing over his duties and responsibilities to young Dolan 37th (ELIJAH WOOD). But when Dolan 36th turns up dead, Kaulder surmises it is the work of witches.

Fortunately, he is able to recruit a good witch, the "dream-walking" Chloe, (ROSE LESLIE), to help him in his quest for revenge -- a quest that brings him into conflict with Belial (OLAFUR DARRI OLAFSSON), a male witch looking to obtain the Witch Queen's still-beating heart and resurrect her. At the same time, he continues to be tormented by memories of his long-dead wife and daughter who he was unable to save.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
"The Last Witch Hunter" is a dull, lifeless movie, folks. It's one of those flicks that if I wasn't called upon to take extensive notes on it for Screen It, I might very well have nodded off. Many things are wrong with it, not the least of which is the subdued, monotone performance of Vin Diesel as the titular character. Diesel served as producer and star here, and he is on screen in nearly every scene. But there's no spark to the performance. His 800-year-old warrior Kaulder is one of those ill-conceived movie characters that has seen it all, done it all, is scared of nothing, and can't be hurt or killed. Can you relate? I can't.

You have to give a character like that some great lines or an interesting perspective on life, limb, and mortality. Or that character has to love who he is and what he does. There has to be a glint in his eye. There has to be a magnetism about him. But Diesel plays Kaulder so, SO heavy. Occasionally, we get to see a little of the charm the actor has displayed in the "Fast and the Furious" movies and projects like "Pitch Black" and "Boiler Room." Mostly, though, Kaulder just lumbers through the film, not really mopey, not really happy, not really ... anything.

Kaulder's wife and daughter were killed in the 1300s by the Black Plague, which we learn was a spell cast by witches to wipe out humanity. Kaulder leads a group of warriors into the Witch Queen's (Julie Engelbrecht) lair and kills her, but not before she curses him with immortality. Flash forward eight centuries, and we learn Kaulder has been employed by the Catholic Church to hunt, kill, and imprison witches over the decades, assisted by a string of handler/protectors known as "Dolans." Michael Caine plays his current Dolan, but he is on the verge of retirement and hands over the assignment to eager-beaver Dolan 37th (Elijah Wood). He and Kaulder immediately discover a plot to resurrect the Witch Queen so she can finish her work in the present day.

In addition to Diesel's listless performance and underwritten character, the film suffers from three other problems. One, it is painfully derivative of numerous other films. They include ... deep breath ... "Highlander," "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," John Carpenter's "Vampires," "Van Helsing," "Dracula Untold," "Hellboy," "Priest," "Legion," and "I, Frankenstein," not to mention TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It's really just a mishmash of plot points and story beats from all of those works, but again without any wit or flair or new wrinkles.

Two, its laden with computer-generated special effects that have no weight to them whatsoever. For instance, several times, we see bugs swarm in this film. And it never, EVER looks like bugs swarming. Kaulder is always getting hit or tossed great distances by the Witch Queen or her chief henchman, the male witch Belial (Olafur Darri Olafsson). But these confrontations have all the weight and physical impact of a Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote cartoon. And I would love it if we never see CGI vines and branches growing EVER again on screen!

Three, and this is a killing flaw ... ahem ... there are no memorable witches in this film!!! I don't need the re-animated corpse of Margaret Hamilton here. But come on! If you're gonna make a movie called "The Last Witch Hunter," at least have some cool cacklers! The Witch Queen is seen in the very beginning of the film and is easily dispatched, only to be resurrected near the end of the movie to no great dramatic effect. It doesn't help that the character is part human performance, part computer creation. So, you never believe her as real. The other witch in the flick is Rose Leslie's good-hearted "dream-walker," who sort of becomes Kaulder's love interest. But her Chloe looks way too young next to him, and the two have very little chemistry.

I did like a brief, fact-finding trip to a New York fashion show, where Chloe and Kaulder go backstage and all of the female models turn out to be witches. There's a neat throwaway bit where they walk past a succession of models sitting in front of makeup mirrors, and each of their reflections shows their true witch faces. And it was sort of interesting that some witches are actually men (although wouldn't they be warlocks?) who can shape-shift and wreak all sorts of havoc.

More wreaking and less reeking would have been welcome. "The Last Witch Hunter?" Ugh. Let's hope so! I give it a 3 out of 10 (T. Durgin).




Reviewed October 20, 2015 / Posted October 23, 2015


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