Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Last Witch Hunter

Title The Last Witch Hunter

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 
Chief Wiggum: "Well, hear me out, if you're innocent, you will fall to an honorable Christian death. If you are, however, the bride of Satan, you will surely fly your broom to safety. At that point, you will report back here for torture and beheading."
Principal Skinner: "Tough but fair."
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half Fairuza Balks out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Immortal bald man seeks revenge for the loss of his flowing locks. Oh, and his wife and daughter.

Tagline: "Live forever. Hunt forever."

Better Tagline: "Must be the season of the witch."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Kaulder (Vin Diesel), a 14th-century witch hunter, was cursed with immortality after slaying the fearsome Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht). Fast-forward 800 years, and Kaulder is now the enforcer for yet another secret Catholic Church agency called the Axe and Cross, responsible for maintaining the truce between humanity and witch-kind. Kaulder's handler is the Dolan (Michael Caine), the 36th one, to be precise. Dolan is literally one day from retirement when tragedy strikes, forcing Kaulder to rely on the new Dolan (Elijah Wood) and a witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie) who holds the key to preventing the Witch Queen's return.

No lie, this movie was inspired by Vin Diesel's old Dungeons & Dragons character.

"Critical" Analysis: The Last Witch Hunter is a cheese ball of a movie. Not Cartman's Cheesy Poofs size, either, but one of those big Kaukauna port wine jobs with walnuts in them that you can even find in a Foodland deli. If that doesn't exactly sound like journalism's most enthusiastic endorsement, that's mostly because it isn't. Though I would point out plenty of people like delicious spreadable cheese.

Part of my sympathetic feelings toward the film are thanks to my affection for another (vaguely) similarly themed movie: Highlander. In both, you have big, undying bald dudes sword fighting in New York City. Granted, the Kurgan (played by Clancy Brown) in that movie was a singularly unpleasant character, and Highlander itself is kind of embarrassing to watch now (the tartan Connor wears in the 1500s wasn't introduced until 1910! What a boner!), but I can see TLWH gaining a kind of guilty-pleasure status on basic cable in coming years.

I also think I've learned the answer to what I call the "Diesel Conundrum." Here's a guy who's made most of his money in action movies like the Fast and Furious series, yet has earned his best notices for smaller, character-driven films like Boiler Room and Find Me Guilty. This would seem to indicate Diesel has the capacity to emote convincingly when given the proper script and directions.

Or, when he has hair.

Bald Diesel is convincing, sure, but every one of his hairless characters (Dom Toretto/Riddick) is a stone badass, requiring little in the way of introspection. But it's in TLWH's flashback scenes, where Kaulder is sporting a magnificent mullet/beard combo I can best describe as "Viking Pirate," that Diesel exhibits honest emotion. Or maybe losing all your hair transforms you into a taciturn grump incapable of love. Let's ask Jesse Ventura.

Diesel and Caine — who honestly looks like he's just about done with the whole acting thing — share a comfortable chemistry, though I imagine you could put anyone with Caine and say that. Leslie is fine as the "hexer with a heart of gold" (aside: All the witches in the movie look as if they spent their Hogwarts years smoking in Diagon Alley and stealing beer from Hog's Head), and their eventual partnership is slightly less gag-inducing than 800-year-old Kaulder's propensity for sleeping with twentysomething stewardesses.

And if you've always found Wood a little creepy, well, there's a reason for that.

But even for a movie about a dude who can't die, it's all fairly lifeless. You've got this guy who keeps the equivalent of a National Guard armory in his apartment, yet there's barely any action outside of the opening battle. Kaulder has a freaking flaming sword; he should be taking out muggers with that thing in his spare time.

I did appreciate the Witch Queen's diabolical scheme to grow a Tree of Woe in Manhattan and unleash a plague upon mankind, but if I may be permitted to speak Diesel's native language of nerd for a moment: The Witch Queen has to be a 25th-level mage by now, right? So why is she resorting to melee combat with Kaulder at all? Cast Power word: kill or Finger of death and be done with it.

The Last Witch Hunter is in theaters today. I too occasionally enjoy the culinary splendor of processed cheese products.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar