We’re ready to start believing that outside the “Fast & Furious” franchise, superstar Vin Diesel is not so super. Don’t get us wrong, he’s enormously entertaining and about the only reason to watch “The Last Witch Hunter.” Sadly, the muscleman is just not strong enough to carry the inane script and sloppy direction throughout the entire feature.
Those looking for a Halloween flick should not be totally disappointed. Such holiday movies are more “trick” than “treat” anyway. The premise is somewhat interesting and we were on board for at least the first hour. Supported by a strong cast that includes Michael Caine and Elijah Wood, there were reasons to be optimistic.
The film begins in a medieval forbidden forest. The scenes are dark and dirty as vicious supernatural witches attempt to unleash the Black Death upon the world. Armies of witch hunters battle for centuries, including Kaulder (Diesel), a valiant warrior who slays the all-powerful Queen Witch (Julie Engelbrect) and her followers. In her movie debut, Engelbrect is completely slimed in mud, vines and bugs, but as they say, it’s a living.
With twisted logic, she places a spell of immortality on Kaulder, so that he is forced to outlive his family that he so loves. Okay, we can get past that. Now, in present day, witches live amongst the humans, but are not allowed to use their magic against us. In New York City, Kaulder is a one-man enforcement agency in this secret sub-culture.
Father Dolan (Caine) is the 36th in a long line of Kaulder handlers; but rapidly aging, he is considering retirement. As Kaulder has outlived each of his many handlers, it’s interesting to hear him call Michael Caine’s elder character “Kid.” The 37th Dolan (Wood) is a young devotee eager to please his newly assigned 800-year-old master.
Kaulder now learns that the Queen Witch is resurrected and seeking revenge. He prepares for an epic battle that will determine the survival of the human race. Kaulder asks the new Dolan, “You wanna quit?” Dolan 37 responds, “No, I want a raise!” Desperate, Kaulder seeks the assistance of Chloe (Rose Leslie), a Dream Walker.
He confronts this powerful witch by asking, “What are you afraid of?” She responds, “Public speaking; what are you afraid of?” He retorts, “Nothing!”
Later, she warns him, “This isn’t who you are!” He coolly explains, “This is all I am.” These exchanges were actually kind of fun and showed the potential of becoming a modernized and engaging version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” before falling on its own wooden stake.
The movie seems to want to be the first of a franchise, but fortunately stands on its own, because that’s as far as this one is going to get. Vin Diesel based his character partly on Melkor, a Witch Hunter in his favorite video game, “Dungeons and Dragons.” At one point, Diesel even gets his butt kicked by a girl; yikes! The Cory Goodman screenplay was featured in the 2010 list of “most liked” unmade scripts of the year. Two years later, Timur Bekmambetov was set to direct, but then, it fell apart.
Bekmambetov was replaced by Breck Eisner (son of Michael Eisner). The script was re-written by Dante Harper, then Melisa Wallack was brought in to clean it up. Included in the writing credits are Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. The result is similar to Eisner’s blockbuster bust, “Sahara.” Maybe his next feature will be, “Making it on Your Own.”
“The Last Witch Hunter” is 106 minutes and rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. This film is somewhat amusing and even educational. We learn more witchy mythology than we can stand. Magic is affected by fire, water, earth and air. Burial dirt has power and witch councils determine policy.
However, the rules seem so arbitrary and convenient for whatever situation they are in at the time that it’s difficult to stay engaged in the folklore. We can’t help but stay fans of Diesel, even though he seemingly is taking advice for his next pictures from Nicholas Cage. Spoiler alert: the wicked witch is dead, again. What a world, what a world.
Ron’s Rating: C- Leigh’s Rating: C