By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A manmade monster meanders through a middling modern melodrama after murdering his master in the moribund miscreation, I, Frankenstein.
(I just wanted to use the letter ‘m’ over and over because that one letter was, you might remember, the entire vocabulary of the monster played by Peter Boyle in Mel Brooks’ hilarious Young Frankenstein — the pertinence of which will soon be clear.)
A creative descendant of rolling-over-in-her-grave Mary Shelley, I, Frankenstein is an action fantasy with Aaron Eckhart as the narrating title character, who is at least three things: a 2,000-year-old corpse; a living thing without a soul; and a brooding, scar-covered creature made up of parts of eight different corpses and then rejected by his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.
Writer-director Stuart Beattie (Tomorrow, When the War Began), an Australian screenwriter directing his second feature film, based his adapted script on a story he co-wrote with Kevin Grevioux, on whose graphic novel of the same name the film is based.
The premise is an interesting one, but director Beattie buries it in an avalanche of tedious expository dialogue that is sometimes unintentionally hilarious: there’s nary an ordinary utterance or believable exchange between characters that isn’t obviously designed and articulated to explain what the heck is going on to a confused and perhaps indifferent audience.
It’s not easy watching this humorless enterprise without remembering (and perhaps hoping to be interrupted by) Gene Wilder and Boyle as the monster in the above-referenced Brooks spoof performing “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Anyway, what we have, after every other character explains it, is a muddy narrative involving shape-shifting, ascending-to-heaven gargoyles led by Miranda Otto fighting shape-shifting, descending-to-hell demons led by Bill Nighy.
We also have humans, virtually none of whom are even glimpsed, oblivious of the humanity-threatening conflict going on all around them. And we have the Frankenstein monster they’re fighting over, renamed “Adam,” trying to avoid both parties and just find his place in the world and his reason for being.
You can at least be sure, given the setup, that the very kind of reanimation that Dr. Frankenstein dabbled in will enter in in some urgent way.
If we only had more interest in Adam Frankenstein. Or anyone or anything else, for that matter.
Unfortunately, we have trouble cozying up to I, Frankenstein because the characterization is so shallow and the talk not only cheap and plentiful but stilted and empty.
The director seems much more interested in the fiery special effects, which are PG-13 sanitized, flashy, repetitious, and inconsequential. And do they distract us from the realization that this film features what sounds like the worst dialogue ever written? Momentarily, perhaps, but nowhere near enough.
Eckhart, Otto, and Nighy are actually better than the material they’re pretty much trapped in, but there are no line readings, no matter how precise or clever, that could bring this script to life.
The obvious goal here is to create and launch a franchise for the core audience not unlike the Underworld series, with which this film shares producers, a writer, and a central concept.
Meanwhile, we’ll reanimate 2 stars out of 4 for this ho-hum supernatural actioner.
I, Frankenstein? We, bored.