Van Helsing is a movie ultimately done in by its budget. I went into it with relatively low expectations, having heard mixed things, and found it to be both more entertaining than I expected and fatally flawed. The film wants to be a campy tribute to monster movies with all the famous cinematic badies crammed into a few rolls of celluloid, but because of its bloated $160 million budget it needs to be a marketable action film for a mass audience. Thus we have a ridiculous, but fun, version of Dr. Hyde crammed into a movie that also features werewolves and a Frankenstein's monster that belong in a more serious film. Van Helsing has a 19th century religious version of James Bond's Q with him at all times, yet Hugh Jackman rarely gets to crack a smile. Everyone's accent is absolutely ridiculous, but while Richard Roxburgh goes completely over the top in an attempt to play Dracula as humorous, (at least I hope to god that's what he was doing) Kate Beckinsale's Anna character is a grim and efficient action heroine. Frankenstein's monster combines pathos and passion with a brain pan that keeps flopping off at the wrong moment. When the big fight comes it's sort of like Superman doing battle with a villain from the Underdog cartoon series, only the Underdog villain is on equal footing. The film was hugely expensive but comes off as cheap since the script is uneven and the CG looks fake.
Van Helsing isn't an awful movie, it's entertaining enough to be watchable, but it needed to either embrace its silly camp premise and style, or work harder to be serious and exciting. Because it strands itself in no-man's land it comes off as a bargain version of Hellboy, a movie that was made for about $100 million less. That's not precisely damning with faint praise, but it's not a compliment either.
If Van Helsing is an example of a movie that could have been much better but wasn't particularly awful, The Forgotten is the opposite. It really is that terrible and it couldn't have been better. The movie seems to have a really good premise at the beginning, but in the end you realize that that was just an illusion. In fact the premise reveals itself to be stupid to the point of insult. The film doesn't even bother to keep us in suspense about the question that should drive the first half of the movie and, if it were daring, the whole thing. Is she remembering the truth or is it all an illusion? She's remembering the truth. The film doesn't make an attempt to hide it and she never doubts herself for a second, even in situations where a sane person would be wondering whether he or she was insane.
The Forgotten also features the sort of dialog that one would expect from a 17 year old trying to ape self-important television writing.
Telly: Do you think I wouldn't drink that entire bottle just to forget for 2 seconds? You're in this. You don't get to drink your way out. What makes you so fucking special?
This series of lines has about 180,000 things wrong with it. For one thing the guy actually had managed to drink his way to forgetfulness before and probably could again. She could as well. For another he's significantly less special than she, in fact she's the one who makes him special. It's like Batman turning to Robin and saying "So you're a crime fighter huh? What makes you so fucking special?"
Later in the movie someone actually says "These people are down deep" (in reference to a special NSA division) and when asked "Doing what?" replies "I'd say god only knows, but I don't think he's in the loop."
That's the sort of line that not even Harrison Ford at his wisecracking best could make work. Instead this movie gives it to a stonefaced detective. It's like a giant experiment to see what would happen if a movie got Julianne Moore, Gary Sinese and Alfre Woodard, and put them all in a high-school revue. The answer? Not a heck of a lot. Bonus points for Anthony Edwards turning in a performance that makes his Revenge of the Nerds work look like Kenneth Branagh doing Shakespeare.
This movie definitely deserves its name, and will probably end up mentioned only in games of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and by perplexed IMBD.com surfers wondering how a movie with this much talent attached could garner such a low stars rating.