Wouldn't "Four Weddings and a Funeral" have been infinitely more entertaining if it had less talking and more kickboxing? And who wouldn't have enjoyed "All About My Mother" more if it had included a hefty helping of gratuitous nudity?
"Brotherhood of the Wolf" is the answer to these silent pleas for gratuitous violence we've all made while struggling through countless artsy foreign films. This ambitious effort makes a bold attempt to entertain both the mind and the Neanderthal inside us all. Unfortunately, the end result is a schizophrenic feature that alternates between wonderful and monotonous.
The story centers on a French naturalist and his Iroquois friend as they attempt to hunt down a mysterious beast that has been plaguing the Gevaudan region in central France. The film also involves a witch, a one-armed weirdo, two love interests (one prostitute, one aristocrat), a handful of treacherous religious types, countless wolves, a gaggle of villains looking like rejects from "Mad Max" and a guy who bears a striking resemblance to Santa Claus.
Although director Christopher Gans contends that the film is based on a true story, it's clear this is a very liberal interpretation of the truth. Gans introduces "Brotherhood" as the story of the beast of Gevaudan, told through one of the lesser characters in the film. But most of the film simply follows the naturalist (Samuel Le Bihan) as he attempts to track down the beast and court a young aristocrat.
Side plots involving Le Bihan's various love interests are like garnish on a plate of filet mignon -- they look nice, but they're not entirely necessary and one often wishes they would just get out of the way. Too many of the film's 142 minutes are devoted to attempting to justify Le Bihan's actions; it's as if Gans is afraid the audience won't find him a likable character.
Thankfully, Gans includes enough eye candy and fisticuffs to render the subtitles essentially optional. Most of the entertainment is courtesy of Mark Dacascos, who plays Mani, the butt-kicking Iroquois. Along with Uncas from "Last of the Mohicans," Mani ranks among the most butt-kickingest filmic Indians of all time.
Like "Last of the Mohicans," this film follows the cardinal rule of any good historical fiction: don't let history get in the way.
Despite a smattering of excellent -- albeit unrealistic -- action, too much time is wasted on peripheral side plots. For every scene of Mani kicking the crap out of some hapless peon, there's a drawn-out thought about how Le Bihan's love interest thinks her parents are oppressive. While the dramatic elements of the film aren't bad, they fail to resonate in comparison with the top-notch action this film has to offer.
Although one has to admire its ambition, "Brotherhood of the Wolf" falls into the trap of trying to be too many things at once and ultimately fails as a result.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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