Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: "Season of the Witch"

Wow! Two movies in one week? I'm on a tear.

I first wrote about Season of the Witch in the fall of 2009, when it was scheduled for release the following March. Then, it seemed to fade away. And suddenly came back with a new release date, 10 months after it was originally scheduled. That should have gotten my spidey senses tingling, but I was intrigued by the possibilities surrounding the premise, so when D suggested we go if his scheduled trip to A.C. was canceled due to the snow, we found ourselves and our friend Heather in the audience of the 8:25 screening tonight.

Set during the Crusades, Season of the Witch stars Nic Cage (another thing which should have set my hackles to "rise") as Behmen and Ron Perlman as Felson, knights who abandon their pledges when they realize the Church is making them kill innocent people (imagine a religion doing something like that... shocking!). While on the lam, they stumble upon a plague-ridden city where the dying Cardinal D'Ambroise (genre legend Christopher Lee) offers them redemption if they'll accompany a priest and a grieving knight as they escort a witch (on whom they blame the plague) to a remote monastery where the monks are to preside over a ritual that will determine the young woman's fate. It was at about this point that I turned to Heather and asked "Is this a Monty Python movie?" At first, the deserters refuse, but Behmen, overtaken with guilt and believing the girl to be innocent, relents and they are soon on the road joined by a swindler as their guide and a pretty altar boy who wants to follow in his father's footsteps and become a knight.

After a promising opening scene, Season of the Witch moves on to a montage of battles and debauchery in which we learn Behmen and Felson are not just great warriors, but best buds. It is then that the cliches simply start to pile atop one another in a slow-moving trek through haunted woods, across rotting bridges and up foreboding mountain trails. As the party begins to thin the CGI ramps up (one character is actually eaten alive by CGI-enhanced wolves - sadly none of them Joe Manganiello) and by the time they reach their destination and the truth about the girl has come out, all hell breaks loose.

At some point, I simply started running a silent version of MST3K in my head until Heather and I couldn't stand it anymore and spent the last 20 minutes of the movie trying to control our hysterics over its cheesiness, much to poor D's consternation. The screenplay by Bragi Schut is so bloated with ridiculous dialog that only Perlman (a seasoned vet of genre campiness) seems to understand it is so crappy, it has to be played for laughs. Cage puts on his best self-important hero persona, making his idiotic dialog all the funnier, though sadly, without a hint of camp irony. Please, will someone get him to lighten up again. he was so funny in Kick-Ass. What happened?

The rest of the cast is completely forgettable, except for Stephen Graham, a British actor who plays the swindler/guide with an inexplicable Brooklyn accent. Newcomers Claire Foy as the girl and Robert Sheehan as the boy are serviceable, while handsome Danish Daddy Ulrich Thomsen manages to be the most convincing period character, though how he manages to get through the movie without breaking into hysterics, is beyond me. Director Dominic Sena (Swordfish) steals ideas and images from dozens of better movies, including Raiders of the Lost Ark; The Mummy; Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'; Drag Me to Hell; The Lord of the Rings and even the terrible The Thirteenth Warrior, making a film that lacks a single moment of originality in either its tone or design. Even the "big effect" creature at the end of the movie is in fact so completely underwhelming, it makes the giant spider at the end of It look like a stroke of genius.

Should you see Season of the Witch? Let me put it this way, if you have home parties where you play your own version of MST3K, then you might want to see it so you can get started on writing the jokes you're going to shout out when you have that party. Otherwise... no, not really.

Season... may not be the first movie I saw in 2011, but it is the first movie I saw that was released in 2011. So how sad it is that I'm starting the year with the first entry of my "Worst of 2011" list? Season of the Witch is a terrible movie, redeemed (if that's even the right word) only by its unintentional hilarity.

Zero stars. Rated PG-13 for "thematic elements, violence and disturbing content."

More, anon.


Stephen said...

That darn Nic Cage is so zany!

Anonymous said...

It has one of the lowest ever ratings on Rotten Tomatoes 5%.