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'The Wolfman' doesn't have same bite

PLOT

A young nobleman returns to a family mansion full of secrets.

BOTTOM LINE

Not an update, but a dust-off of the 1941 classic, and not nearly as effective.

CAST

Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving

LENGTH

1:31

Pity the poor werewolf! His nemesis, the vampire, has been embraced, even romanticized, by his human prey, welcomed in high-school hallways and New Orleans nightspots. The lycanthrope, however, remains lucky to escape the village mob for a night, let alone get the girl.

"The Wolfman" is Universal's attempt to combat vampire mania by reviving its 1941 chiller "The Wolf Man," a standard-setter with Lon Chaney Jr. as the hapless Larry Talbot and Claude Rains as his sympathetic father, Sir John. The new screenplay, by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, upends Curt Siodmak's original: This time dad is a sinister figure played by Anthony Hopkins (coolly cruel), while Benicio Del Toro stars as a depressed, possibly cursed Lawrence. The girl, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), is still here, throat at the ready.

The story has not been updated but rather backdated, to 1891, which limits its possibilities. The tweener setting of "Twilight" allows for all kinds of novel ideas, but "The Wolfman" is stuck in dreary olde England. There are topcoats, carriages and astounding amounts of gore, but the only witticisms come from Hugo Weaving, delightful as a surly Scotland Yarder.

The man-to-wolf transformations, ostensibly the main event, are disappointing. Makeup artist Rick Baker already won an Oscar for them in "An American Werewolf in London" (1981) and he's content to re-create them, nearly follicle for follicle.

That's the overall problem: Everyone, including director Joe Johnston ("Jurassic Park III"), seems afraid to mess with the wolfman. As a result, the creature ends up no better off than before.

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