How did Nicolas Cage avoid this one?
“The Last Witch Hunter” does not work as campy escapism or as a guilty pleasure or as one of those movies so unintentionally funny you have to admit you were entertained from the hokey prelude through a finale that is such an obvious grab for a sequel one of the characters might as well have said, “I feel like there’s another chapter in this story!”
It’s just deadly and dreadful, loud and obnoxious, convoluted and irritating, horrible and dumb.
Vin Diesel lumbers and mumbles his way through a performance so bad it makes his work on the “Fast and Furious” franchise look like vintage Tom Hanks by comparison.
Get this. Diesel plays Kaulder, a charisma-free lunk of a 14th century soldier for the Catholic Church who wears an extremely complicated hairdo and getup that makes him look like a cross between an extra in the latest “Mad Max” film and a bass player for a heavy metal band.
We’re told the Black Death plague of the mid-1300s was the work of the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht), an unseemly lass who’s all maggots and snakes and skeletal ickiness. (And of course she howls and threatens in that echo-heavy metallic death voice popular with so many witches and ghosts and villainous apparitions.)
In the first of many CGI-overloaded battles in which it’s sometimes difficult to discern what’s even happening, Kaulder seemingly takes down the Witch Queen — but she reaches out and curses him to immortality, so he’ll have to walk the Earth for ages, always mourning the loss of his wife and daughter, who will appear to him in a number of dream sequences and flashbacks, because heroes in movies such as this often have a wife and a child who appear to them in dreams and flashbacks.
Cut to present day. Our man Kaulder now patrols the world as, well, the Last Witch Hunter — but over the years he’s come to understand not all witches are bad, and he’s become more of a kindly cop and parole officer than an executioner. (Some of his encounters with witches are reminiscent of how Tommy Lee Jones dealt with aliens in the first “Men in Black.”)
Michael Caine picks up a paycheck as a priest who is known as Dolan 36th. The Dolan’s role is to be the loyal and unquestioning manservant to the Witch Hunter — with the occasional lecture to our hero about how even though he’s 800 years old, he’s missing out on the best part of life, i.e., sharing it with someone. He’s kind of like Alfred the Butler (Hey! Michael Caine!) with a collar — only they have to pick a new Dolan every half-century cause Kaulder doesn’t age.
As long as witches don’t abuse their powers to harm humans, they’re left alone. If they break the law, they’re arrested. At one point Kaulder notes the most notorious witchly villains are in one place — and Dolan 36th somberly replies that place would be…“The Witch Prison.”
Elijah Wood pops up as Dolan 37th, an annoying little pipsqueak who reminded me of the useless and far too peppy Burt Ward/Robin, as long as we’re referencing “Batman.”
Rose Leslie, last seen saying, “You know nothing, Jon Snow!” on “Game of Thrones,” is the fetching Chloe, a witch who operates a trendy bar and strikes up an alliance of sorts with Kaulder, so they can look into each other’s eyes and consider what must surely be a Forbidden Romance between Witch and Human. (I’d like to see Mike Huckabee tackle that issue at the next Republican debate.)
Olafur Darri Olafsson plays the evil Belial, who’s supposed to be the most ruthless and dangerous witch in the entire world, but comes across as a second-tier bad guy from an old episode of “Sons of Anarchy,” only with some superpowers.
The screenplay by a trio of writers is muddled and goofy and riddled with clichés. Director Breck Eisner spends so much time on flashbacks and dream sequences and fantasy spectacles, we’re never much invested in present day. At no time do modern-day New Yorkers seem to even be aware of the “Ghostbuster”-level epic battles taking place in their city. We get a few long-distance, poorly CGI’d views of Manhattan swirling in smoke, but that’s about it.
It’s as if all the civilian citizens have gone on vacation, the better to avoid this movie.