‘The Raven’ Review
“Not the bees!” - Nicolas Cage, 2008.
“Emi-LLLLLLLY!” - John Cusack, 2012.
Picture this. John Cusack and Luke “You Kinda Recognize Me” Evans are chasing clues in the hopes of rescuing Alice Eve's Emily Hamilton, the daughter of society who we know is buried somewhere in a 'Kill Bill'-proof coffin. Evans and Edgar Allan Poe (you know, from 9th grade) address their assembled troops in the dank, dreary and remarkably color-saturated bowels of the city sewer system.
“When I blow my whistle like this,” Evans says, taking a moment to toot on a whistle, “we'll shout her name like this. . .” At which point Cusack, who, I swear was cool at one point in my lifetime, takes a deep breath, conjures his inner-Wiseau and screams “Emi-LLLLLLLLLY!”
And the only people who aren't laughing in the audience are the ones who've already fallen asleep. I'll give it credit for being memorable, unlike everything else in this dumbass picture that is a steaming hot plate of snooze.
It's the end of Edgar Allan Poe's life, and while Frenchman may be able to quote his poems in pubs, he is broke, drunk and angry. Someone, however, has decided to take the macabre killings from his published works and do them. . .FOR REAL! While this may sound like a “Data on the Holodeck” episode, the idea of blending an author biopic and his collected fiction is not automatically a bad idea. I cite David Cronenberg's 'Naked Lunch' as an example of doing it well, Steven Soderbergh's 'Kafka' as doing it somewhat-well and Alan Rudolph's spin on 'Breakfast of Champions' as something that at least showed some moxie. 'The Raven,' I am sad to say, offers nothing.
What is particularly galling is that director James McTeigue doesn't even commit to a tone. The movie is far to dull for gorehounds, but the out-of-character dips into 'Saw' territory are far too revolting for 'NCIS' fans. An enthusiast of any network show with both fingerprints and initials in its title, would be the natural audience for this movie - if it weren't for the swinging pendulum bisecting a torso in Zack Snyder-vision.
Is there anything good about 'The Raven?' Well, actually, the stuff that doesn't involve the killings and the clues. The look at old Baltimore and how the newspaper business worked and how a writer we have read lived out his days. I'm not saying that I want a straight Edgar Allan Poe biopic – not everyone who ever made a mark on the arts deserves one – but, from what little we see in the first act, it looks like this guy had an interesting act.
You know what isn't interesting? [And, warning, because I guess this is a SPOILER. I guess this is actually a MAJOR SPOILER.] It isn't interesting when you find out that the killer and kidnapper of hero's beloved is. . . just some dude. When the big reveal came, and it wasn't who I thought, I wondered – hey, did they leave out a reel of the film? Who is this guy? He had a line or two. But there was no way to predict he was the killer and, more importantly, the discovery makes no impact at all.
Nor does this film. McTeigue's 'Ninja Assassin' was at least gorgeous to look at, but this is just washed-out and green. If someone with more oomph was in the lead, maybe it could squeak by. But Cusack, heavier now in purse, no doubt, really blows it. I can't remember the last good thing he was in ('1408?' 'Runaway Jury?') but the unfortunate thing is that he's now become the guy you wish was Nicolas Cage.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.