Directed by James McTeigue. Written by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston. Cast: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson, Alice Eve, Kevin R. McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Sam Hazeldine, Dave Legeno. (R, 111 mins)
THE RAVEN is a potentially fun bit of speculative fiction that presents Edgar Allan Poe spending the days before his death tracking down a Baltimore serial killer who patterns his murders on elements in Poe's own work. Not a new concept, but it's one with some potential given Poe's stature to this day. But what ends up on the screen is a drab, laborious cut-and-paste slasher film that never finds the right tone and doesn't do anything of interest with Poe himself. As Poe, a miscast John Cusack never seems set on whether he wants to play it straight or tongue-in-cheek.
An alcoholic and an opium addict, Poe is broke and dealing with writer's block when he's consulted by Detective Fields (Luke Evans) about a string of brutal murders lifted directly from his stories. The killer is specifically targeting Poe, and ensures the writer's involvement by kidnapping his fiancee Emily (Alice Eve, who's terrible) and burying her alive and leaving clues to her whereabouts on the bodies of each new victim.
|Cusack as Poe|
Former Wachowski Bros. protege James McTeigue, director of V FOR VENDETTA (2006) and the disappointing NINJA ASSASSIN (2009), is helming his first film away from the MATRIX duo, but doesn't bring any of the sense of pacing or style that those films possessed. What he does hold over from NINJA ASSASSIN is the completely cartoonish CGI splatter, seen in its full effect during a PIT AND THE PENDULUM-inspired killing that's simply embarrassing and gives it a thoroughly DTV feel. How much longer will we tolerate this nonsense? Have you ever seen CGI blood in a non-comic book or graphic novel-derived film and not had it take you completely out of it?
|Cusack, with Alice Eve as|
Cusack doesn't seem at all comfortable in a period piece like this, especially when the script by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston has him using anachronistic bits of dialogue, like "serial killer," a term that wasn't coined until the late 1960s and not even used until the 1970s (and I have doubts that "mouth-breather" was a common insult in 1849). There are numerous bits where Cusack seems to be attempting a sort-of campy, over-the-top Nicolas Cage thing, especially when he's screaming "EMMMMIIIIIILLLLLYYYYYYY!!!!" (watch for that to be a YouTube sensation shortly), which only distracted me into wishing Nicolas Cage was starring in this. Then it at least would've been crazy and stupid instead of halting and indecisive. Cusack is a fine actor, but he's all wrong here, and he's not helped by Eve's awful performance. Brendan Gleeson is OK as her irate father, but he's not given much to do other than be Brendan Gleeson. Evans (Aramis in last year's steampunk-inspired THREE MUSKETEERS remake) does some good work as the determined Fields and actually gives a more interesting performance than Cusack. But it's mainly just a series of increasingly improbable coincidences and giant leaps of presumption (oh look, here's a convenient map tattooed on a victim's back and there's a guy right here who's an expert on latitude and longitude!) where 17 consecutive contrivances--all expertly choreographed by the killer, of course--have to take place in order to move to the next plot point.
|Luke Evans as Detective Fields|