on one level, the brotherhood Of The Wolf has it all: a gigantic, ravenous beast, swooping camera movements, Monica Bellucci nude scenes, royalist plots, kung fu, extras on horseback, papal agents with vials of poison, Vincent Cassel glowering in the corner, animist mythology. It also has a direct line to Hong Kong action cinema through fight coordinator Philip Kwok and editor David Wu, who worked with both John Woo and, more to the point, Ronnie Yu (The Bride With White Hair), a master of the exceedingly odd action film.
On another level, it moves at such a lunatic pace that it basically fries its own circuitry, piling plot complication upon climax for the final hour or so. Its relentless effort to reference every cultural issue that catches the director's fancy is more exhausting than exhilarating.
Imminent revolution, the treatment of women, the desecration of the North American wilderness by evil white guys in three-cornered hats -- name an idea and director Christophe Gans has a response, usually an over-the-top action sequence, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
It's France, 1765, and the Beast of Gévaudan is ravaging the countryside, preying on local women and children. A French army squad is trying to find it, the local nobility are getting very sniffy about the whole thing, and the peasants are revolting.
The Beast of Gévaudan, about which there is some historical documentation, was a marauding killer, some kind of wild animal that apparently piled up a staggering body count in the Auvergne in southwest France -- at the time a four-day ride from the middle of nowhere.
Into this crisis rides our hero, the naturalist Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), straight from the French and Indian War, along with his faithful Mohawk-Iroquois companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos). Aside from being a silent, stoic type who speaks bad French, Mani is also a whiz at various martial arts that he no doubt studied at the Shaolin Temple in old Quebec City.
Somewhere in the 140 minutes of Brotherhood Of The Wolf there's a pretty good 110-minute movie struggling to get out, but Gans won't let it. He's too busy whipping things into a visual frenzy, filming things in driving rainstorms or blizzards or using three smash cuts and a whip pan when a simple cut would have made the transition without bludgeoning the audience.
He's the French Baz Luhrmann, and Brotherhood Of The Wolf is the Moulin Rouge! of action movies -- an astonishing technical achievement that's utterly devoid of email@example.com
THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF directed by Christophe Gans, written by Stephane Cabel, produced by Samuel Hadida, with Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Duquenne, Monica Bellucci and Marc Dacascos. 140 minutes. A Davis Films-Le Studio Canal + Production. A TVA International release. Opens Friday (February 8). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 77. Rating: NN