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Making an intentionally campy, self-aware film is always a bit of a gamble. When it works, as with Jason Eisener’s peerless Troma-homage Hobo With a Shotgun (2011) or, to a lesser extent, Garrett Brawith’s FDR: American Badass (2012), the effects can best be described as pure, unabashed cinematic joy. These films thrive on a razor-thin separation between “clever” and “stupid,” the unspoken assumption that we’re all in on the same joke but we’re just going with the flow. Broad acting…crude humor…gory SFX…silly story developments…it’s all just part of the plan. These are the kinds of crowd-pleasing popcorn flicks that deserve a large crowd of giddy goofballs, ready to party and shout dialogue back at the screen.

When intentionally campy films don’t work, however, you get things like Sharknado (2013): shrill, cartoonish affairs that flaunt their cheap effects and bad actors with an almost pathological sense of glee. These are the B-movies (or C, in some cases) that tend to clog the feeding trough, making it harder to sift out the truly quality nuggets among the…refuse, shall we say. The bad news? There are a lot of really terrible “bad” films out there. The good news? Lowell Dean’s WolfCop (2014) sure as hell ain’t one of ’em.

The premise behind the film is appropriately lunk-headed, with just the right amount of awesome added, for spice: a ridiculously bad cop, Lou Garou (Leo Fafard), is knocked unconscious while poking around in the woods and wakes up with a pentagram carved in his chest. Since Lou’s the kind of guy who actively avoids busting criminals, drops his gun on a regular basis and shows up to work drunk, it’s probably not surprising that he’s gotten mixed up with some bad shit. When Lou turns into a werewolf (the bravura scene, set in a bar bathroom, really puts the “dick” in detective, shall we say), however, we might be forgiven for raising a few eyebrows.

Partnered up with the earnest, by-the-book Sgt. Tina Walsh (Amy Matysio) and scuzzy, gun enthusiast Willie Higgins (Jonathan Cherry), Lou delves into the mystery of his new “condition” and uncovers a mysterious plot that involves the town elders, an immortality ritual and evil, shapeshifting, lizard people. It’s an impossible case and the odds are impossibly high. Good thing Lou’s not just any old law enforcement officer…he’s WolfCop…and shit is about to get real hairy.

After a rough opening that comes uncomfortably close to bad TV, writer-director Dean’s WolfCop hits a pretty great groove and rides it effortlessly to a pretty satisfying, if silly, conclusion. In many ways, the film is like a kinder, gentler Hobo With a Shotgun or a less Dada take on Kaufman’s classic Toxic Avenger (1984). The acting is always broad (although the principals, particularly Fafard, are consistently good), the action is gory and goofy and subtlety is never one of its strong points. That being said, WolfCop is a relentlessly good time and much smarter than it appears: the film is full of clever background details and wolf imagery that helps drive home the central meaning without ever beating things into the ground.

When the film is firing on all cylinders (pretty much anytime WolfCop is whupping ass nine ways to Sunday), it’s a thing of beauty: Dean is a deft hand with the action sequences and manages to keep everything popping along in a truly kinetic fashion. This isn’t the same vaunted territory as Eisener’s Hobo, mind you (an obvious reference point for WolfCop, especially given the specious nature of each film’s protagonist), but it’s close enough for government work. The numerous transformation scenes…the bit where Lou turns his cop car into a sweet ride…the part where WolfCop rips off a dude’s face and throws it against a windshield, as the faceless guy runs around like…well…a chicken with its face ripped off…the acrobatic “SkiniMax” scene where bartender Jessica (Sarah Lind) has sex with WolfCop…they’re the great, giddy, B-movie moments that really make genre films like this so much fun.

WolfCop ends with an obvious setup for a sequel (on-screen text informs us that WolfCop 2 is coming soon, after all) and the biggest compliment I can offer the film is that I eagerly await said promised sequel. There was plenty of great stuff here and the barest minimum of unnecessary bummers (the numerous flashbacks were intrusive and rather irritating). Leo Fafard shows himself to be perfectly adept with the material, bringing just enough positive qualities to what could have been a pretty reprehensible character: we end up really feeling for Lou, which is a pretty big coup considering where the film started. Matysio makes a good foil for Fafard and there’s some genuine chemistry there: I hope the follow-up plays that up to good effect.

More than anything, I was impressed with the massive restraint that Lowell Dean showed here: there were about a million wrong turns that he could have taken, at any particular moment, but he manages to steer the film into some pretty inventive territory. WolfCop doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it hits cruising speed quickly and stays there: count me Team WolfCop from here on out…something tells me Dean has got plenty of tricks up his sleeve for future goodness.

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