Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Breck Eisner
Stars: Vin Diesel, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie, Julie Engelbrecht, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Rene Owen, Isaach de Bankole, Joseph Gilgun.
Up until now I always thought that The Chronicles Of Riddick was the nadir of Vin Diesel’s film career. But now we have another contender for this dubious distinction with the messy, special effects heavy fantasy The Last Witch Hunter, which was a vanity project for the star.
Based on a series of graphic novels, The Last Witch Hunter has been written by a trifecta of scriptwriters, including Cory Goodman (Priest, which shares a few surface similarities), Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold), but the material has also been heavily influenced by Diesel’s obsession with Dungeons And Dragons. It also has vague echoes of Highlander.
Here Diesel plays Kaulder, an immortal medieval warrior who has spent the past 800 years hunting down evil witches. Way back in the thirteenth century he battled the evil witch queen (Julie Engelbrecht) and thought that he had vanquished her forever. In present day New York, where Kaulder now resides in relative luxury in an apartment overlooking Central Park, he works for the Axe And Cross, a mysterious church sect that enforces an uneasy truce between the world of the witches and magic and the human world. As long as magic remains underground and doesn’t interfere with the human world everything is fine.
Kaulder’s mentor, known as Father Dolan 36 (played by Michael Caine), is the latest in a line of such men who offer advice, spiritual guidance, and assistance as he is occasionally forced to do battle against these evil forces and hunt down rogue witches. Then Kaulder discovers that the witch queen is about to be resurrected by some evil forces who are intent on unleashing the Black Death on the world. When the queen’s henchman casts a spell on Dolan, Kaulder is forced to break in his new apprentice (Elijah Wood, from The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, etc), a rather green and naive young priest unprepared for what he is getting into. Kaulder also hooks up with Chloe (Rose Leslie, from Game Of Thrones, etc), a dream walker who has some special insights and is able to probe deep inside people’s minds, but her loyalties are uncertain.
Obviously the success of the Fast & Furious franchise has given Diesel enough leeway to indulge his fantasy with this vanity project. Diesel is charismatic enough as he grunts and growls his way through this role, which is tailor made to suit his physical presence, and he brings plenty of muscle to his performance. But much of his risible dialogue is, thankfully, rendered almost unintelligible. Caine, who is obviously willing to do just about anything for a pay cheque, phones in his performance here, and indeed looks uncomfortable for much of the time. His role here reminds us of his recent work as Alfred, Batman’s faithful butler in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Diesel and Caine though do share a good rapport and bring some humour to the otherwise dour proceedings. The stunt casting of LOTR and Game Of Thrones alumni should also attract a certain audience to the film.
Director Breck Eisner (The Crazies, etc) is something of a hack, and his handling of the material lacks subtlety and finesse. The film lazily falls back into the usual tropes of the action fantasy genre that has become a staple (Dungeons And Dragons, Season Of The Witch, Seventh Son, etc), without adding anything particularly new or exciting. The action sequences are badly lit and badly handled, edited in that sort of frenetic energetic style that renders them almost unwatchable. The special effects are also fairly second rate, especially given the $90million budget thrown at the material, which becomes obvious as Diesel battles an army of CGI created baddies. The production design serves up some impressive sets, particularly the labyrinthine Axe And Cross lair underneath St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Hoping to kickstart yet another potential franchise, the film leaves the way open for the possibility of a sequel, although the dismal box office returns would suggest that this is unlikely to eventuate. I wasted 101 minutes of my life on this piece of junk, and I don’t want to waste much more time writing or thinking about this toxic piece of cinema. Hopefully the film lives up to its title and this is the last we see of this particular witch hunter!