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Raven, The (2012)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Descent Into The Maelstrom."
1 stars

"The Raven" presents itself as an exceptionally morbid whodunnit--which makes perfect sense when you consider that its central character is none other than Edgar Allen Poe, the legendary author who is still revered to this day for his groundbreaking forays into the mystery and horror genres--and it certainly offers up any number of wild questions that it tries to answer by the time it gets to the finish line. However, once the press screening ended, my colleagues and I found ourselves attempting to puzzle out one brain-twister not officially covered in the film proper--why the hell isn't Nicolas Cage a part of the proceedings? The clues all seem to suggest a project that has his named scribbled all over it--an implausible plot, location filming in a faraway land unconvincingly doubling for a stateside locale and a central role filled with opportunities for the kind of off-the-wall histrionics that seem tailor-made for a man with his particular filmography. However, in a development that surprises me as much as it probably does you, there are apparently still some things that Cage will say no to these days and gibberish like this is just that. While this will no doubt come as a relief to Cage's remaining fan base, it will provide little comfort to those without the common sense to give such nonsense the widest possible berth. (Note: I promise that I will try to keep the Poe-related comments and references to a minimum, especially any from the poem from which the film takes its name and precious little else.)

An opening title card reminds us that Poe died in 1849, at the age of 40, after having been found a couple of days earlier on the streets of Baltimore ranting and raving incoherently--behavior that was perhaps not quite as shocking and surprising as the film would have you believe when you consider his well-documented fondness for opium, alcohol and other forms of hard living. Since little is apparently known about what specifically killed Poe or how it was that he spent his final days, the film offers up its own speculation regarding those points and, in news that will come as a shock to none of you, those speculations are exceptionally lurid. As the story proper opens, Poe (John Cusack) is, despite the notoriety of his grim short stories and poems, a barely functional drunk who has just had his latest critical essay unceremoniously bumped from the newspaper in favor of the efforts of a hacky rival and his name is no longer powerful enough to earn him a shot of whisky on credit at the local tavern (no, not even after he offers a free drink to anyone who can complete the phrase "Quoth the Raven. . .") This is actually the best scene in the film by far--a blackly funny and mildly tragic depiction of an uncompromising artist facing his alternately uncomprehending/uncaring public--and if it had continued on along these lines, it might have resulted in something really interesting. Who knows, maybe someone will do something along those lines one day after this film is long forgotten--next year, perhaps.

Around this time, a couple of women are found brutally murdered inside a room locked from the inside with no visible means by which the killer could make an escape. Eventually, the inspector in charge (Luke Evans) stumbles across the secret of how the killer disappeared and remembers that it was once found in one of Poe's stories. Naturally, Poe is put under suspicion at first but when another man (the critic whose article replaced Poe's) is found amidst the business end of an exceptionally fearsome pendulum, it becomes apparent to both Poe and the inspector that someone is bringing the grisliest elements of Poe's tortured imagination. Eventually, the mysterious killer announces his purpose--he wants Poe to both solve the mystery of his identity and chronicle the entire investigation in the paper as an apparent means of stoking the creative fires. To ensure Poe's participation in such a ludicrous plot, he kidnaps Poe's rich and beautiful fiancee (Alice Eve), buries her alive and promise to reveal her whereabouts once the case is cracked.

The idea of a film featuring a collection of murders inspired by the works of Poe is nothing new--the best of the bunch is possibly the otherwise unrelated 1935 epic "The Raven," in which Bela Lugosi plays a brilliant surgeon and Poe enthusiast who attempts to bump off a bunch of people following a romantic spurning--but the notion of setting it in Poe's time and having him trying to solve the mystery is reasonably ingenious; one only wonders what Roger Corman might have done with it if he had hit upon such an idea as a way of further amortizing the cost of the lavish sets he built for his string of Poe adaptations for American-International Pictures back in the Sixties. One of the reasons that might have worked is because even though the Corman Poe films usually had little to do with the original stories, they often managed to at least evoke the spirit of what the author was trying to create. Alas, "The Raven" appears to be one of those situations where so much heavy lifting went into dreaming up the premise that screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare had no remaining energy or inspiration to give when it came to the messy business of bringing it to life. As an exploration of Poe, it demonstrates no discernible curiosity towards the man or his work and when it does to attempt to explore and explain him in a little more depth, it sounds as if large chunks of his Wikipedia entry were grafted on wholesale. As a straightforward serial killer thriller, it also fails to deliver the goods--the kills are unbelievable, the stuff in-between is interminable and when the identity of the killer is finally revealed at the climax, the moment is so dramatically underwhelming that most viewers won't be stunned so much as scratching their heads while trying to remember who the hell he was in the first place. All in all, this was easily the least plausible and most nonsensical film I saw on this particular screening day and bear in mind that when I saw it, it was followed by "The Three Stooges."

If there is a mystery that apparently solved in a satisfactory manner here, it is the long-running question of whether director James McTeigue really and truly directed his debut film, the thrilling "V for Vendetta," or whether he had help from acknowledged mentors the Wachowskis, who also wrote and produced that film. Considering that his subsequent solo efforts have consisted of "Ninja Assassin" (which was junky and idiotic but not without its charms) and now this (which is just junky and idiotic), I think we can all agree at this point that McTeigue either had a lot a help the first time out of the gate or his skills have atrophied at a truly terrifying rate because this is just a mess from start to finish that somehow manages to take an out-there premise and render it absolutely inert. This isn't even the kind of good bad movie that one can groove on because of its slick style and wild violence. This is a surprisingly ugly and dingy movie, even by the standards of one supposedly taking place in 1849 Baltimore (unconvincingly played by Bulgaria), and completely lacks the style and energy that might be expected. As a bloodbath, it is even worth because while there is plenty of gore to be had throughout, it is all of the resoundingly unconvincing CGI variety and its cartoonish presentation helps to further erode whatever scant bits of tension that might have still existed.

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that the biggest mystery on display in regards to "The Raven" was that Nicolas Cage somehow did not sign on for the role of Poe. The second biggest mystery, on the other hand, is the one surrounding why it was that John Cusack did sign on for the part. Over the years, Cusack has been in a lot of movies and for the most part, he has generally tried to stick with material that is smart and unique--any short list of his prime achievements would include "The Sure Thing," "Say Anything," "Grosse Pointe Blank" and "High Fidelity"--and his failures have usually been ambitious works like "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" that have at least attempted to do something different and which at least had the grace to go down swinging. (As for potboiler pablum like "Con Air," "Must Love Dogs" and the ridiculous "2012" I bet that he is willing to forget all about them if you are.) This one, on the other hand, is such a botch that I am at a loss to explain what it was about the project that might have intrigued him in the first place. All I can speculate is that he read the first few pages, came across that aforementioned bar scene and was so thrilled by the possibilities that it promised that he hired on right then and there and didn't bother to read the rest of it until he got to Bulgaria and it was too late to escape. If that did happen, I can imagine him sitting forlornly in his hotel room every morning, desperately trying to muster the strength to return to the set while staring out the window and muttering "nevermore"--well, either that or praying for the sweet relief afforded by the nearest pendulum.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22655&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/26/12 23:28:18
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User Comments

6/10/14 Charles Tatum It has the right look, but no substance 3 stars
12/28/12 KingNeutron Cusack was decent, but they should have used period-appropriate accents; not scary 3 stars
11/18/12 Hugh 100% poop 1 stars
11/12/12 The Taitor Borderline rental/might be worth a stream, Cusack does what he can, mediocre at best, 2.5 2 stars
11/10/12 mr.mike A well-staged disappointment. 3 stars
6/11/12 The Big D A macabre masterpiece--if you don't appreciate it, you're too obtuse to grasp its meaning. 5 stars
5/15/12 damalc interesting, but just didn't quite get there 3 stars
5/15/12 Kimberly Brown Wasn't really scary, I'm not a fan of John Cusak 2 stars
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  27-Apr-2012 (R)
  DVD: 09-Oct-2012


  DVD: 09-Oct-2012

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