Saturday, April 28, 2012

World of Poe Goes Hollywood, and Heartily Regrets It

"...too purely imbecile to merit an extended of a class of absurdities with an inundation of which our country is grievously threatened..."
- Edgar Allan Poe, review of "Paul Ulric," Southern Literary Messenger, February 1837

"The fact is, the drama is not now supported for the sole reason that it does not deserve support...The common sense, even of the mob, can no longer be affronted, night after night, with impunity...if the playwright, we say, will persist in perpetrating these atrocities, and a hundred infinitely worse...if he will do this, and will not do anything else to the end of Time--what right has he, we demand, to look any honest man in the face and talk to him about what he calls 'the decline of the drama?'"
- Edgar Allan Poe, "Does the Drama of the Day Deserve Support?" Weekly Mirror, January 18, 1845

Quoth the Raven, "I'm calling my lawyer."

Something of a sense of professional duty compelled me to waste time and money on John Cusack's "The Raven." From what I had seen and heard of the movie, I wasn't expecting much, and it did not disappoint me in that regard. The premise--Poe plays detective to hunt down a serial killer who uses murder methods based on his stories--is one that has for years been an overused staple of crime fiction (not to mention a mercifully defunct TV pilot,) and the filmmakers did not make the slightest effort to improve the tired concept. "The Raven"--the title says it all about the film's lack of imagination--is simply a typical slasher flick with Poe's name pasted on as a quickie marketing tool.

Cusack, painfully miscast and hammy though he may be, is not the worst thing in this movie, (that honor goes to Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare's sorry excuse for a script,) but he's not Poe, either. His character (or, rather, caricature) does not have the slightest resemblance--physically, emotionally, or historically--to the actual man, although in a movie this stupid that's almost inevitable. Perhaps I take such things too much to heart, but seeing someone who was universally described--even by his enemies--as a quietly charming, dignified, refined, and courteous gentleman portrayed as an arrogant, childishly egomaniacal, rude smartass is deeply offensive.

Alice Eve, who plays his (entirely fictional) love interest, has some charm, and might have made a decent Virginia Clemm in another, better movie--despite being one of those actors who looks vaguely uncomfortable in period pieces. (Or perhaps her unease was due to the fact that she and Cusack made such a ludicrous couple. The writers could not have created a more unconvincing romance if they had paired Poe off with Rufus Griswold...the latter, incidentally, instead meets a bloodier fate in this film.)

Another source of irritation is that the film simply could not decide what it wanted to be. It was too campy and illogical to be taken seriously, and too intellectually pretentious to be any fun. And the true source of horror in this thing is the dialogue.

Not long ago, a literary agent told me, "Everybody in Hollywood has a Poe screenplay they're trying to sell." (This particular agent had three.) If that is the case, it is a marvel that with so many scripts to choose from, this silly mess is what finally gets produced. (And when this film is--as I predict--quickly hooted out of theaters, that will probably discourage the development of other, and possibly worthier, Poe-related projects.)

If you enjoy seeing people dispatched into eternity in various extremely gruesome ways, you might like "The Raven." There really is nothing more to be said about this production. (Although, to be fair, I did get a few moments of entertainment for my money--when Cusack-as-Poe went into his Dirty Harry impersonation and started waving a pistol around I fell into uncontrollable giggling fits.)

Otherwise, this tired, unpleasant film so bored me I could not even work up any real animosity. (It is not even necessary to include "spoiler alerts" for any review of the film, as it features the most idiotic denouement in recent memory. There is absolutely no challenge in guessing the murderer's identity, and what is more important, you simply don't care.) "The Raven" failed to even reach a level of "Mommie Dearest"-style enjoyable epic awfulness. It was just there, a perfect example of the generic, immediately forgettable, two-hour style-over-substance time-suckers that the film industry churns out with such monotonous regularity.

Look, gang. Do us all a great favor. Instead of putting more money into the pockets of everyone responsible for the half-witted exploitation of a dead genius, watch something like the following video instead. This is Poe: