Saturday, 7 June 2014

WolfCop - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The considerable promise inherent ina great concept only goes so far. It's got to deliver the goods - bigtime. The greater the concept, the greater the final product actuallyhas to be. That, however, is easier said than done. If a sequel looms,there's some hope it'll be done properly.

WolfCop goes wide across Canada on Friday the 13th of June on the night of the Full Moon in the following first-run cinemas: Toronto/Scotiabank, Winnipeg/Polio Park, Halifax/Bayer Lake, Hamilton/SilverCityMountain,Calgary/Chinook, Vancouver/InternationalVillage, Regina/Galaxy, Edmonton/SouthCommons & Saskatoon/Galaxy. Maybe Cineplex Entertainment will euthanize the Hollywood Dogs to put 'em out of their misery & give this hit Canuck picture even more screens. Its opening weekend that began June 6 in Western Canada played to sellout shows and there's every indication of potential cult status for this flawed, but crowd-pleasing horror-comedy.
Deputy Lou (Leo Fafard) & conspiracy theorist Willie (Jonathan Cherry)
Cinecoup's original artwork ROCKS!!!
Too bad the movie doesn't.
WolfCop(2014) **1/2
Dir. Lowell Dean
Starring: Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, Aidan Devine, Sarah Lind, Corine Conley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The world (at least my world) is full of B-movies with GREAT titles that don't deliver what I want them to deliver. Take, for instance, Zoltan: Hound of Dracula. Indeed, the movie serves up a hound, it's named Zoltan and yes, belongs to Dracula. So far, so good, mais non?


It's missing what I genuinely expected from its great title - a good movie. Sadly, the list of great titles that yielded bad movies is longer than the schwance of the giant Jack had to kill. WolfCop suffers a similar fate, but adds insult to my injury since it's got a lovely high concept within its magnificent title. In fact, the split second I heard that a WolfCop was on its way, I began to salivate like an eager Australian canis lupus dingo running across the outback from a campers' tent, a newborn clenched in its jaws and soon to be a tender, flavourful meal of succulent flesh, warm, sweet blood and delectable globs of baby fat.

Alas, all the slobber was for nought. WolfCop turns out to be not very good at all. Even worse is that it's not even a pile of crap. If it were truly awful, abysmal beyond all belief, I might be able to forgive and accept it for the dross it is - you know, kind of like Sharknado. Unfortunately, WolfCop's soul-crushing mediocrity, aimed squarely and unimaginatively at mere ephemeral marketplace needs, deserves no forgiveness. None! I realize this isn't an especially charitable stance for a former Altar Boy to be taking, but somehow, I'm certain my Lord Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter would accept my unforgiving inclinations, especially since He (via Lee Demarbre, the mad genius of Ottawa) delivered a terrific movie on all fronts whilst WolfCop delivers a great title, a few meagre pleasures and major-league disappointment.

The plot, such as it is, involves Lou Garou (Leo Fafard), his name being ludicrously close to loup-garou the French word for "werewolf". Lou is an alcoholic deputy in Woodhaven, a less-than-bucolic rural cesspool. His recent nightmares turn out to be real. At first, a wave of missing pets suggests some mysterious manner of foul play, but in no time at all, the carnage begins to escalate. Lou, it seems, has been afflicted with the curse of the werewolf. With the help of Willie (Jonathan Cherry) his conspiracy theorist and gun store proprietor buddy, Lou begins to investigate his, uh, problem and eventually uncovers an ages-old conspiracy which might actually lead directly to the town's corrupt Mayor Bradley (Corine Conley).

The Chief (Aidan Devine) of the local Sheriff's office has just about had it with Lou's drunken hijinx and exerts pressure on our hapless hero to investigate the mysterious murders - a bit of a problem, since Lou discovers his werewolf side is responsible. Luckily, none of the human victims are innocents, but are instead scumbags connected to the local gang of criminals. Still, murder is murder and it needs to be investigated and Lou's colleague Tina (Amy Matysio), the prim, proper and perpetual winner of the "Deputy of the Month" award also has her nose to the investigation grindstone. Amidst all the dark chicanery swirling around Woodhaven, Lou is quickly becoming the object of attraction for the comely local barmaid Jessica (Sarah Lind). Romance, as any horror fan will attest, is oft-impeded by lycanthropy.

All of the above swirls tidily - too tidily as the predictability factor is notched up too "high" - and we're treated to a mad night of crime-busting, mad passionate sex, the usual double-crosses from the obviously expected places and alliances formed from the least expected (though equally obvious) places.

There's a lot wrong with the movie, but it gets a few things right. First and foremost, the special makeup effects are out of this world. Eschewing digital enhancements, the werewolf look is achieved via real makeup and prosthetics. This is not only cool, but the movie kicks major butt during the transformation scenes. WolfCop has a lot of competition in the transformation department - most notably from The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and even the original Universal Pictures' The Wolf Man. If anything's missing, it's the underlying emotional resonance of the horrendously painful transformation sequences. This is not the fault of actor Leo Fafard, nor the F/X artists, but Dean's ho-hum screenplay.

The performances are uniformly fine. Fafard is a handsome, square-jawed hero with considerable humanity in his eyes and he works overtime to bring a semblance of believability to his role. Aidan Devine proves, yet again, why he's one of the best actors in Canada. Though he's saddled with a stock and underwritten role, he infuses it with his laconically sardonic qualities and one sits there wondering and hoping when he might get a few star-making turns that launch him into a genuine character lead not unlike that of a 70s anti-hero type such as rendered by Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider or hell, even Warren Oates. Amy Matysio makes for an intense deputy as Tina and I love how she sports a tightly-wound, semi-pole-up-the-butt crime fighter look, but lurking deep within is that hot babe itching to be free of her protective shell and let her hair down like the stereotypical and proverbial small town librarian type who's the sexiest minx this side of Bedford Falls. Matysio is also a terrific comedy actress and she delivers one of the funniest moments I've seen in any film in quite some time. All I wish to reveal is that it involves blood-dripping human flesh.

The man who comes close to stealing the show, though, is Jonathan Cherry. His conspiracy-theorist whack-job is broad, to say the least, but in all the right ways. He not only elicits huge laughs with the handful of good bits the script offers, but he even manages to bring a smile and/or a chuckle with some of the more egregiously on-the-nose humour. He's a great sidekick for Lou and I sincerely hope he's back for the film's already-announced sequels.

So, you're probably wondering why I'm bothering to kvetch about the movie. Well, let me tell you why. First and foremost, it's really disappointing that the film is set in some generic North American small-town. Given that the film is shot in two of Canada's cheesiest, sleaziest backwards cities, Regina and Moose Jaw, one wonders why the movie is simply not set there - in Canada! Canada is not only exotic to foreign markets, but can be really damn funny. It's a major cop-out to have seemingly bent to the boneheaded notion that Americans (especially) don't respond to anything that's not American. The major missed opportunity here is that in the province of Saskatchewan, the regional law-enforcers are the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Come on! Mounties are known all over the world and they're hilarious. Why, oh why, oh why the filmmakers didn't think to just set the damn thing in Moose Jaw (that's funny, too) and better yet, adorn Fafard, Devine and Matysio in faux-Mountie garb, is simply beyond me.

The prairies have long been home to one of the most beloved cinematic forces in WORLD CINEMA, the prairie post-modernist new wave of Canada (a perfectly-apt term coined by critic Geoff Pevere). In Winnipeg, this spawned the likes of John Paizs (Crime Wave, Springtime in Greenland, The Obsession of Billy Botski and Top of the Food Chain aka Invasion!) and Guy Maddin (Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Careful, My Winnipeg) and most recently, the astonishingly brilliant Astron-6 collective (Father's Day, Manborg and the upcoming The Editor).

Regina too has spawned a similar movement with the legendary Brian Stockton leading the charge (The 24 Store, which is essentially a much more intelligent and funny Clerks before Clerks existed and crossed with Slacker before Slacker existed, The Blob Thing shorts, his CFC short nod to George Romero The Weight of the World and his thoroughly whacked Wheat Soup that he co-directed with Gerald Saul). Other astounding prairie post-modernists from the Regina scene include former University of Regina professor (now at Concordia in Montreal) Richard Kerr (his The Last Days of Contrition is still one of the most powerful political head trips ever made in Canada) and Brett Bell who shocked the world with his stunningly hilarious and savage short Tears of a Clown: The Maredrew Tragedy, a film that totally beat Bobcat Goldthwait to the crazy clown sweepstakes when the comedian eventually made (the jaw-dropping) Shakes The Clown AFTER Bell's strychnine-laced gumdrop of sickness.

WolfCop had so much potential to mine this territory in its OWN way. One of the things that makes for great cinema (that can also be commercial) is to embrace one's regional culture in the telling of a story. God knows the SCTV nut-cases did this and even Americans did not shy away from the artistic bounty of the "regions". George Romero's greatest work was ALWAYS rooted in Pittsburgh, John Waters work was synonymous with Baltimore and Barry Levinson's finest films had Buffalo written all over them.

I LOVE GENRE PICTURES and know them like the back of my hand, but watching Dean's film made me so crestfallen over the fact that much of WolfCop felt stock and generic. On occasion, the clearly talented filmmaker seems to deliver just the right flourishes that the prairie legacy and its contemporaries are imbued with (the aforementioned hilarity involving Matysio's blood dripping flesh shenanigans being a perfect example), but by hiding the world he missed so many opportunities to make the screenplay, characters and narrative so much better.

On the flip side, the generic setting does seem to lean more towards America. We don't have Sheriffs in the traditional sense in Canada and though the supremely funny idea in WolfCop of a store devoted to Liquor AND Donuts could well be more of an American thing, it frankly feels far more rooted in the whacked Canadian prairie post-modernist tradition. Again, Regina and Moose Jaw are totally fucked places. Why not a liquor-donut store there? (*NOTE* I'm from Winnipeg. It's as big a hole as Regina or Moose Jaw and has just as many weird-ass locations. If WolfCop had been shot there instead, I would have been equally disappointed that the 'Peg's utter pathetic qualities weren't exploited.)

Canada - especially in rural or suburban settings - has also spawned some of the most sickeningly aberrant criminal behaviour in the world (Bernardo-Homolka, Dennis Melvin Howe, the pig-farming prostitute killer, the bus-riding cannibal, the cross-dressing Canadian Forces rapist-killer, etc. etc. etc.) and the notion that some kind of redneck Satanic league that spawns werwolves is totally Canadian - almost perversely and sweetly so. (God knows Astron-6 has been able to blend the tropes of genre with the country's revolting history of carnage.) Alas, what we get instead is a stereotypical attempt at satirizing small-town American culture with a parade of homeless alcoholics puking and spitting up all over the place. One series of quick shots of homeless drunks on the streets of the film's fake locale was nasty without being funny, though it was clearly supposed to register laughs. I felt more embarrassed and even ashamed for the actors having to play these bit parts. Homeless alcoholics are not funny when they're treated with derision as they are here. (Does anyone still remember the Toronto Film Festival promos from that idiotic insurance company that made fun of poor people living in trailers? Disgusting.) And I'm not saying disgusting CAN'T be funny, either. Just look at how brilliantly the Astron-6 collective tackled this in Father's Day.

WolfCop's low budget also seemed to render a potentially great action-packed, blood-soaked set piece involving our werewolf cop and the gang of criminals into a totally cheapjack, flat-on-its-face sequence. Endless closeups with no wider or medium establishers turn one of the major climactic moments of the movie into a geographically-challenged and lame sequence that disappoints big-time. I'm blaming the budget only because Dean's compositions and shot-lists generally feel on the money and the cinematography and aforementioned makeup effects are well above and beyond the call of duty. As such, I actually might be blaming the film's producers for not moving mountains to make sure this sequence kicked major ass. On the other hand, if Dean didn't plan for a series of wider shots to ensure a spatial sense, then he's the one who erred.

What we've got here is a great idea, a talented filmmaker, a terrific cast and a creative team who could well have lived up to the overall promise of the piece. Alas, the screenplay lacks punch and genuine edge. The decision to render the setting generic is clearly unwise and finally, too much stock placed in ephemeral market needs rather than trusting in the inherent insanity of the piece. I imagine and hope all the promise displayed here is not wasted on the sequel, but instead manages to take the wonderful route enjoyed by Sam Raimi when he essentially remade The Evil Dead in Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn by not holding back on ANYTHING and delivering a movie that's still a masterpiece of utter madness.

With the WolfCop franchise, I can taste it. Let's hope Dean's allowed to get it right on the next go-round.

WolfCop is currently in theatrical release in the following Canadian cities:

Moose Jaw

On June 13, the release widens to include:

Toronto / Scotia
Winnipeg / Polo Park
Halifax / Bayer Lake
Hamilton / SilverCity Mountain
Vancouver / International Village
Calgary / Chinook
Edmonton / South Commons
Regina / Galaxy
Saskatoon / Galaxy
A special one-night screening in Hamilton guest-hosted by Horror in the Hammer

In spite of my disappointment in the picture, I still think WolfCop is commercial (and possibly pleasing enough to audiences) to have deserved way more screens than it's getting. I hope the current platform release will include a much better expansion in the picture's third week. Someone needs to spend way more money on the picture's P&A and get this flooded into rural hardtops and drive-ins. In the Toronto market it should hopefully be widening out to include as many screens as possible in the suburbs and surrounding cities. It's a natural for expansion. Maybe Cineplex Odeon can boot a bunch of American Crap out to allow for more WolfCop screens.