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Hellboy ***
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Hellboy:  Ron Perlman
Liz Sherman:  Selma Blair
John Myers:  Rupert Evans
Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro

Red Bull will give you horns!

I am a comic book fan.  I like comic books and I like comic book movies.  When I heard that they were making a movie of a comic I never had heard of called Hellboy, I cringed.  It sounded bad.  Then I did a little research on the character.  It seems that his origins involved World War II-era Nazis and the occult.  Intriguing, indeed. 

Then came the trailer and the realization that Ron Perlman would have the lead role.  Gasp.  There are few actors I dislike more than Perlman, who had managed to suck in everything I had ever seen him in starting with the TV version of The Magnificent Seven and culminating with a sour portrayal of a leather-clad, muscled member of the vampire elite in Blade II.  In between, he had soiled every scene he was in during Enemy at the Gates.  I didnt want him to be the lead in anything, much less a comic book film I had interest in seeing.

To make matters worse, the trailer kind of sucked.  It showed glimpses of a giant, made-up Perlman leaping and punching and punch lining.  Coupled with the scenes of the overactive Perlman were Schwarzenegger-ready catch phrases and some lame CG effects.  Add to the mix a woman villain hissing Master and you get enough reasons not to watch a movie.  I got primed for another disappointment.  I got so primed that I put off seeing it until it rolled into the local second-run theater a week ago.

To my surprise, the film was actually a comic book movie the way I like them: dark and witty.  The story starts in the middle of World War II with Professor Trevor Bruttenholm narrating the action of his younger selfs discovery of the creature that would come to known as Hellboy.

Occult friendly Nazis led by the over-acting Karel Roden as Rasputin aim to open a portal to another dimension (never classified as Hell in the film, for you wondering how much blasphemy is contained in the film).  The Professor and a group of American soldiers manage to thwart the plan and destroy the portal, but not before Rasputin gets sucked in and something else gets through.  The something else is a small, blood red creature with a giant stone (?) hand three times as large as its other one.  Its colored appearance and tiny horns cause the soldiers to call it Hellboy.

Jump sixty years into the present day when Agent John Myers of the FBI is introduced to the American Governments bureau for the paranormal where he is to become the partner of the now fully grown and fully sarcastic Hellboy, the enforcer of the bureau.  Myers and the audience are also introduced to an much older Professor Bruttenholm and Abe Sapian, a aquatic creature that sounds an awfully like a Dr. Niles Crane from TVs Fraiser.  The character is in fact portrayer by a seperate actor in heavy make-up and voiced by David Hyde Pierce.

The elite team of the bureau is almost immediately called out to investigate a creature in the public library (although all I saw was museum artifacts).  Hellboy goes in alone and we quickly learn what the rest of the film will be like: witty, stylish, and dark. 

After the outcome of the battle, Hellboy wanders off to see the object of his affections, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair).  Sherman is by choice holed up in a mental institution where she hopes to learn to control outbursts stemming from her ability to produce fire.  And all of a sudden, without warning, the hulking red creature exhibits humanity in one of its oldest forms: longing.

It is the humanity lent to the absurd that keeps the film grounded.  Hellboy, Abe Sapian, Sherman, and Agent Myers are all great characters in a cinematic world not meant to hold such rich characterizations.  Each actor, even the usually awful Perlman, deliver terrific performances under the haze of make up or absurd situations.  They work.  The villains, for the most part do not.  Rasputin is a dramatic fool, hissing and roaring when a subdued menace would have raised the stakes of the character and the film.  His henchwoman and lover (?) Ilsa (Biddy Hodson) echoes her counterparts overacting.  The only true menace that is felt in the film is from the hell hounds, hulking creatures in their own rights, and the blade-wielding assassin that wears a sleek gas mask and never says a word.

The movie contains its own blend of quality versus corniness, but ultimately, the film is an entertaining diversion and welcome dark contrast to the bright skyline of Spider-man or Superman.  I just wasnt blown-away by any aspect of the film itself.  I never really was captivated or held within its world like I so desperately wanted to be.  I needed to be to get the real immersion comic fans live for.  I never got it. 



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