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'The Last Witch Hunter' review: Vin Diesel-powered fantasy

Vin Diesel stars as Kaulder in

Vin Diesel stars as Kaulder in "The Last Witch Hunter" directed by Breck Eisner. Credit: Lionsgate / Scott Garfield

If you're a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy role-playing game that has been synonymous with nerdism since 1974, you may know that the actor Vin Diesel is also a devotee. If anybody could make sword and sorcery seem cool, it's Diesel, and he does his best with "The Last Witch Hunter," an action-horror flick that he not only stars in but conceived and helped produce.

Inspired by his days as an avid gamer, "The Last Witch Hunter" stars Diesel as Kaulder, a Crusader with a flaming sword. Eight hundred years ago, he killed the Witch Queen (a computer-assisted Julie Engelbrecht), a formidable foe despite the unmemorable moniker. With her dying breath, she curses Kaulder with immortality, and he's been hunting witches ever since.

Flash forward to modern-day Manhattan, where Kaulder is doing quite nicely. He works for the Axe and Cross, a well-funded arm of the Catholic Church, which keeps him in fashionable suits and puts him up in what appears to be the top floor of the San Remo. Chloe, a young witch -- she's one of the good ones -- wakes up in Kaulder's pad one morning and can't help but gasp: "Nice view."

Chloe, a hip, street-smart witch, is the kind of character whose sassiness usually lands with a thud in movies of this sort, but Rose Leslie (HBO's "Game of Thrones") plays her with intelligence and moxie. Rounded out by Elijah Wood and Michael Caine as Kaulder's priestly valets, plus a memorable Dawn Olivieri as a hookah-puffing femme fatale, the spirited cast keeps this movie entertaining despite its overly familiar feel. (It owes a large debt to 2005's supernatural noir "Constantine.")

The script is overstuffed with supernatural hokum -- covens, councils, contracts, you name it -- and Breck Eisner's direction frequently loses coherence. (The opening action sequence remains a bit of a puzzle.) Still, Diesel and his colleagues make for good company, and the occasional kooky detail can liven things up. Look for Joseph Gilgun as Ellic, a nasty warlock whose faded T-shirt clearly bears the words "Farmingdale, Long Island."


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