Saturday, January 8, 2011

Keeping the Promise: Season of the Witch

A commitment to excellence. That’s one of the things that as a moviegoer I completely and utterly lack. So when’s freelance writer Eric Pope started going on about the Nic Cage Promise, a goal to see every Nic Cage movie on the weekend it was released, I was intrigued. Nic Cage is a man of considerable talents, among them looking wild-eyed, chewing scenery, and generally being fucking bananas. It is at least compelling to watch, more often than not. What could be the harm? I signed aboard this misguided ship for the 2011 season.

Which is how I found myself at 10:00 AM sitting in my local AMC with a surprising number of other damned souls about to be treated to the cinematic equivalent of a dimly lit waiting room full of sighs and old magazines.

For those of you who have been exercising good taste, Season of the Witch is a story of Nic Cage and Ron Perlman as two knights taking a leave of conscience from the crusades, fleeing to a town where they’re caught as deserters and made to escort a woman who is supposedly a witch to some monastery where she will undergo a trial (and probably execution, because hey, what else are you going to do with witches?).

The film opens with a montage of Cage and Perlman killing various ethnic peoples to religious dogma being shouted at them, both of them clearly too old or too bored to be swinging around a sword and make it look dramatic, and finally they flee the evil Church’s grasp to head back to Europe, suddenly in the grasp of the plague of rubbery prosthetics, something that’s rendered the location shooting empty of extras and the cramped city sets full of bodies but bereft of speaking roles outside of our leads.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t do anyone any favors, as Nic Cage seems to think he’s in a serious movie, looking ponderously grave (or maybe he’s just that serious about getting his paycheck). Ron Perlman, on the other hand, seems to be convinced he’s in a buddy movie, biting off his limited lines like the Hellboy we’ve come to know and love. Here, however, they seem to go noticed by nobody. He might as well be playing against the flat grey stone walls.

The characters get a bunch of other, more disposable people around them when they pick up the ‘witch.’ There’s a priest who we’re lead to believe is evil because evil priests are almost a given in a story about witchcraft. There’s a prisoner who serves as the guide but mainly serves as the source of a jarring Chicago accent until he dies by the worst CGI wolves since The Day After Tomorrow. There’s also some other people, but the script doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about them so why should I?

This merry band travels from one painfully obvious set to another, back walls obscured by heavy fog so they wouldn’t have to pay for CG extensions. No, all the CG is saved for the very end of the movie, where after toying with the idea that the movie would be about whether or not the girl who serves as the plot device is or isn’t a witch (by the way, she spends most of the movie looking creepy and exhibiting super strength, but still everyone seems more than willing to give her the benefit of the doubt about maybe not actually being a witch) the plot is suddenly tossed aside in favor of turning her into a really really awful CG monster.

No, I mean bad. Like it makes the bat-Dracula from Van Helsing look like The Thing kind of good. So our heroes fight the CG to the best of their sleepy, halfhearted ability, and then everyone you even remotely cared about dies and we’re left with a message of hope or something. It doesn’t really matter, because none of it is given any sort of gravitas. The big reveal of the plot, that all of their journey has been a trick to get them into revealing the location of a sacred book to a demon, is tossed haphazardly aside in the middle of an assault of zombie monks. Yeah, there are zombie monks, looking frightfully boring with their rubbery makeup and PG-13 trickles of fake blood.

If this sounds like a mess, that’s because it is. The movie is a clash of really terrible ideas, put together in such a way as to make it all seem dreadfully boring. There was, surreally enough, a blind woman sitting several seats down the row from me, and the quiet narration of her husband explaining the parts she couldn’t get from audio context were far more entertaining than the movie itself.

There is such a thing as a fun bad movie, something Cage has traded in through a lot of his career, but this movie isn’t that kind of film. If Season of the Witch is guilty of anything, it’s taking a can’t-miss cult premise and squandering it by taking it all far too seriously. You weren’t going to see this anyway, because most of you aren’t insane, but take this as further evidence that this movie was dumped out to die in January for good reason.

The things I will do for Nic Cage. I hope he’s happy.

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