I, FRANKENSTEIN (Stuart Beattie). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (January 24). Rating: N
I will say this much for I, Frankenstein: the whole time it's on, you keep thinking it's 30 seconds away from making sense. If it could just slow down for a breath, if something could just not explode in this scenes, if the gargoyles and the demons could sheathe their killing swords and let somebody finish a sentence, maybe a decent movie might emerge.
But that's not the kind of picture I, Frankenstein is. It might have been at one point, before it was hacked down to 93 minutes of action sequences and anything resembling a plot was muddled into incoherence. All it is now is a showcase for CG cameras swooping through elaborately rendered sets - an ancient cathedral here, a massive underground laboratory there - while Aaron Eckhart punches a series of stuntmen in the foreground.
Eckhart plays Frankenstein's monster - who really isn't such a bad sort, except for that business back in the 18th century where he murdered his creator's new bride. (It's written off as a crime of passion.) And anyway, after he buried Victor Frankenstein, the creature was immediately swept up in an ancient war between gargoyles and demons, with the fate of humanity somehow hanging in the balance.
So now it's the present day, and the creature - who goes by Adam when he's in a social mood - is back in the world of men, slaughtering demons and enduring the occasional disapproving nod from the gargoyle queen (Miranda Otto). Which would be fine, except that a certain demon prince (Bill Nighy) has employed a brilliant young electrophysiologist (Yvonne Strahovksi) to replicate Victor Frankenstein's experiments.
The film was originally conceived by Kevin Grevioux, an actor and writer who co-created the Underworld franchise and does his level best to mimic it here, with another battle between two supernatural races expanding to involve relative innocents.
I'm happy to say that I, Frankenstein at least proves smarter than its forebears by removing guns from the equation. There's no scene where gargoyles and demons face off at opposite ends of a long hallway and unload hundreds of rounds at one another in slow-motion.
But there's not much else either. For most of the movie, demons attack Adam and Adam kills a bunch of them, after which he gets a talking-to from the gargoyles. There's a bit of a twist in the middle when one of the gargoyles attacks Adam for no particular reason, and we get to see how Adam fares against a flying adversary rather than one that knows kung fu. (When you're an immortal supernatural monster, you have time to get really good at kung fu.) But mostly it's just fighting and running and fighting and running.
The whole Frankenstein thing is a red herring, by the way. Author Mary Shelley's concepts are barely even referenced. It stings to say this, but Stephen Sommers's ridiculous Van Helsing movie paid more attention to its literary inspiration and allowed its characters to enjoy themselves once in a while. Like the Underworld movies, I, Frankenstein is grim and humourless, churning through its running time with little regard for anything resembling fun.
Eckhart can be a charming, charismatic screen presence when given the chance - even when playing a monster - but this movie isn't interested in letting him loose. In the end, he's just another stuntman.