Thursday, April 18, 2013

Movie Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2008)

Stars: 1 out of 5
Pros: It wasn't a miniseries
Cons: Nothing works right in this film
The Bottom Line:
Just stick with the book
This movie gets nothing right
A Hyde of a film

Skip This Modern Retelling of a Classic

I seem to be softening in my old age. In the last few years, I have seen several movie versions of books I love that I have actually enjoyed. But just as I think I am learning to separate the movie from the book, along comes this modern, made for television version of Robert Lewis Stevenson's classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and I find myself back at square one.

A series of gruesome murders are rocking the city of Boston. The latest to die is a prostitute. The next morning, Dr. Jekyll (Dougray Scott) wakes up with blood on his hands. That puts him in a panic, and he quickly returns home to his basement lab to work on some experiments.

But when things don't get better, Dr. Jekyll decides to turn himself in. Going to his old friend Gabe Utterson (Tom Skerritt), he hires pretty lawyer Claire Wheaton (Krista Bridges) to help him quickly wave his trial and appeals so he can turn himself in and then be given the death sentence. Why? Because he is responsible for the crimes. Almost.

Dr. Jekyll, it turns out, has been experimenting with the extract of a rare Amazon flower, rumor to be able to separate the good from a bad in a person. And it has sort of worked. Jekyll has created Edward Hyde (also Dougray Scott), and evil person responsible for the murders. Since there seems to be no antidote in sight, Jekyll figures the only way to stop the monster is to die himself. Will Claire go along with the plan? Is there a cure? Can Hyde be stopped?

My problem with this movie is not the modern setting. I actually think the idea of setting the classic in a modern time period and in America could have worked. In fact, some of the ideas explored here like modern methods of dealing with split personalities could have made for an interesting movie in the right hands.

These weren't the right hands.

First the rant of the novella lover. What makes the original story so powerful is the strong allegory present. This is a warning about letting evil into your life. Ultimate, it destroys Dr. Jekyll despite his attempts to overcome it. The movie toys with these themes a little, yet ultimately discards them for the twists and turns of the plot.

But even if you were looking at this on its own merits, you'd be hard pressed to find anything praise worthy. The story is rather slow. We already know much of what will happen in the first hour. Things get slightly more interesting in the second hour, but by then the movie has become so predictable I saw every twist, including the "surprise" ending, coming. And that ending? Left me completely unsatisfied.

The tone of the film didn't help either. We get to witness two of the murders, and they try to make those feel like a bloodless horror movie. Yet later in the film this is a courtroom drama. Um, please make up your mind.

Then there are the characters themselves. Frankly, we never get to know any of them. It might have worked if we'd felt sorry for Dr. Jekyll. And we're told what a great man he is. But we never see that greatness in action, so it doesn't mean anything to us. The only other character given enough screen time to potentially be sympathetic is Claire, but she is so stupid, I kept wanting to yell at her to figure things out before she made everything worse.

And the character's actions don't make much sense to me. If Jekyll figured that dying was the only way to get rid of Hyde, why turn himself into the cops? Several characters make references to a romance between Jekyll and Claire. After their second meeting! Now, there is no doubt that she is a beautiful woman. But there had been no hints of any of that. Both meetings had been business only.

The final nail in the coffin is the performances. True, they aren't awful. But there is nothing truly that memorable either. Granted, they didn't have much to work with script wise, so it's not entirely their fault. Most disappointing was Dougray Scott. He plays Hyde with a swagger and a British accent that I enjoyed. But his Jekyll could have used a bit more of a haunted air to him. Again, it was an okay performance, but even with a poor script the characters are so meaty it could have been better.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been filmed many times over the years, but none of them have truly captured the book well. So if you want to know the story, read the novella. It's very short, and you could probably finish it in the time it takes to watch this movie. And, unlike this film, you'll find it so rich, you'll be thinking about it for days afterward.

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