Silver Screen: The Raven *
All you need to know about the would-be literary thriller The Raven can be summed up by the film's introduction of its brooding antihero, acclaimed macabre writer Edgar Allen Poe. Wearing a top hat and black cloak, Poe walks down a foggy Baltimore street, bottle in one hand, fountain pen in the other. Because he's not only a crazy drunk, he's also a writer!
It's also worth noting that Poe is played by John Cusack, a uniquely modern-looking actor whose transformation mostly consists of a well-groomed goatee and one third of a British accent. Cusack's Poe is not the morose proto-goth who wrote beautifully weepy poems about his deceased wife, a cousin he married when she was thirteen, but rather a garrulous, high-octane deadline dodger with an outsized personality that seems a bit more like Hunter S. Thompson by way of Captain Jack Sparrow. Not since Winona Ryder got a new boyfriend has the phrase “Johnny Depp wasn't available” been so prescient. Here Poe also sports a cantankerous editor, a trusty pet raccoon, and a smoking hot (but age-appropriate) love interest.
The premise of The Raven is patently silly, but good fun: A serial killer stalks the streets of Baltimore, executing victims with grisly methods that mimic famous Edgar Allen Poe stories. After becoming convinced the author had no part in the killings, Detective Fields (Luke Evans) enlists Poe's help to suss out the motives for the murders and predict where he will strike next. The killer, however, has eyes for Poe's lady love, a debutante (Alice Eve) whose wealthy father (Brendan Gleeson) wants to keep them apart.
Why does Poe need a love interest, and why does she need to be kidnapped at the designated halfway point of the movie? Because despite its high concept (or at least tallish concept) and historical veneer, it's just shiny wrapping over a loose collection of police-procedural cliché s. The generic murder is a knockoff Saw killer (the Pit and the Pendulum sequence is especially derivative) who manages to be everywhere and nowhere, confounding a police force whose problems are awfully reminiscent of 1980s cop movies. (The mayor wants answers!) The Raven is at once gruelingly familiar and stunningly absurd.
The only real pleasure to be had here is the schadenfreude of watching Cusack throw himself into the part with such miscalculated zeal. It's a bizarre and captivating mistake of Nicolas Cagean proportions-- you can practically hear Cage's voices echoing in the distance, “Oh god, the bees! The bees!”
The upside to this shoddy debacle is the potential to expand it into a whole subgenre of miscast actors playing literary legends genre-fiction adventures. Imagine the possibilities: Megan Fox as Emily Dickinson, who must overcome agoraphobia to find the man who killed her sister! D.J. Qualls as Ernest Hemingway, out to catch the giant fish terrorizing beachgoers in the Florida Keys! Jean Claude Van Damme as F. Scott Fitzgerald, who must save Zelda from a group of marauding bootleggers! Now that is great American literature.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.