`Brotherhood' truly is one beast of a burden

Review: The film has the looks, but it winds up being senseless cinema.

January 18, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Brotherhood of the Wolf suggests what might happen if filmmakers from the United States, France and Hong Kong got together to make a film: an ultra-chic, ultra-shallow take on an 18th-century French legend, featuring an Iroquois schooled in the martial arts, and a beast created by the Jim Henson Co., the folks who gave us the Muppets.

Brotherhood of the Wolf is all pretty people and surface noise and fog-shrouded milieus and slam-bang action that goes nowhere. It's mindless, which is rarely true of French cinema, dull, which is rarely true of Hong Kong films, and portentous, which shouldn't be true of any film about a man-eating dog.

Based on actual events in the mid-18th century, when the elusive Beast of Gevaudan feasted on the local populace, the movie stars Samuel le Bihan as Fronsac, a scientist with all sorts of cool equipment the king thinks will prove handy in capturing whatever is doing the killing. Fronsac brings along a companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos), an Iroqouis who believes in three things: communing with nature, keeping quiet and kicking butt.

King Louis XV wants this animal done away with as quickly as possible; the locals are tired of serving as dog food and have little use for a monarchy that can't protect them.

Fronsac and Mani, acting like an early day Batman and Robin, begin tracking down the beast, at first with little luck. Fronsac is successful, however, at attracting the eye of the lovely Marianne (Emilie Dequenne), a chaste young member of the aristocracy. Her overprotective brother, Jean Francois (Vincent Cassel), doesn't take kindly to Fronsac's advances and proves plenty menacing.

Also in the mix is the mysterious Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), a wily seductress whose motives - not to mention her movements - are rarely clear.

Events plod along, the beast continues to feast, and our confusion continues to mount. What exactly made Louis XV think Fronsac was the man for this job? Are we ever going to get a look at this critter? And who the heck is Bellucci's character supposed to be?

Things sort of get resolved in the end, though the film goes on about two battles too long. Brotherhood of the Wolf has its appeal - it looks good, le Bihan and (especially) Dacascos seem to be having fun, and Bellucci, although woefully underused, has a mysterious and exotic screen presence.

In the end, however, maybe it's best that the Americans, French and Chinese continue on their separate ways.

Brotherhood of the Wolf

Starring Samuel le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci

Directed by Christophe Gans

Rated R (Violence, sexuality)

Released by Universal Focus Pictures

Running time 142 minutes

Sun score **

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