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To Hellboy and back
July 17, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
Considering that his looks — with stubs of sawed-off horns above his eyes, facial hair in unexpected places and apoplectic Mr. Tomato Head complexion — make you want to blow your popcorn, “Hellboy” is actually more fun to be with than you might expect.
As played by Ron Perlman and written and directed by “Pan’s Labrynth’s” Guillermo del Toro, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is almost too much of a class act to pretend it’s just another flawed-comic-book-hero action adventure in a summer already too crowded with them.
Yes, all the current action-movie cliches are here: the zombie army, awakened from the dead; the subterranean temple fortress; the gigantic stone gear works, promising to speed up that old dust-to-dust business for anyone who falls in.
The plot is based on an ancient legend involving a very pale villain (Luke Goss) with immortal powers to do bad things; and his twin sister (Anna Walton), who’s also very pale, but is as virtuous as he is vile.
There are any number of wondrous strange creatures, this being a Guillermo del Toro production. Some are good, like Hellboy and his wife, Liz (Selma Blair), who catches fire when she loses her temper. Trusted sidekick Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) is, uh, a fish. Like “X-Men,” they are residents at a secret, government-administered facility for the not-quite-human among us.
Other of the film’s creatures are awful. And yet, this being an art director’s showcase, they are a fascinating, sometimes beautiful and even occasionally cute form of awful.
Take the tooth fairies, for example. They’re tiny creatures who gnaw on people’s bones, beginning with their victims’ mouths. Or the gigantic big-tree monster, who fights to the death with Hellboy, but leaves everyone feeling a little sadder once he’s gone.
It’s this mood that sets “Hellboy” apart. Perlman chomps cigars and swills beer; he and Blair bicker like Ralph and Alice in one scene, but are touching and poignant in the next after being stigmatized and rejected by the humans they keep going to such great lengths to save.
For all the action and special effects, it’s these emotions — the heart, the humor and the boundless imagination — that make “Hellboy” an unusual entry in the superhero sweepstakes.
Like del Toro’s Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth,” this is not just a dazzling feat of imagination, but a meditation on the very nature of imagination. If movies are a form of escape, del Toro’s movies won’t let audiences forget what they are escaping from.
“Hellboy II” is the rare case of actually earning that No. 1 spot at the box office with good intentions and screen craft to match —even though its days at the top are numbered by this week’s arrival of “The Dark Knight.”
Eddie Murphy’s lastest comedy, “Meet Dave,” doesn’t fare nearly so well —despite a concept ripe with the potential to be hilarious.
Working with his favorite co-star — himself —Eddie portrays a spacecraft from another planet, inside of which is a tiny crew captained by (wouldn’t you know?) Eddie again.
Try to imagine the Starship Enterprise shaped like William Shatner and you’ll get the concept.
On a mission to steal Earth’s salt by drying up its oceans, Eddie and company land in New York where he has to pass himself off as a human long enough for the crew to complete the job.
Dave bumbles his way into the apartment, and the life, of a young widow (Elizabeth Banks) and her son (Austyn Myers), who needs a dad, or at least some help with his self-esteem.
As Big Eddie mugs and mimics the strange forms of life in the Big Apple, little Eddie and the crew inside his head are getting their own crash course in what being human is all about. Considering that people on their planet have emotional range of Dr. Spock, that’s a good thing.
But despite all its comic possibilities (the trailer cracked me up every time I saw it), the follow- through is listless. Eddie can do this kind of material on autopilot — which he seems to be a lot of the time. The writing is Sitcom 101; the special effects are hardly special; the set looks less like a spaceship than something left over from a ’70s TV game show.
In other words, “Meet Dave” is nothing to phone home about.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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