“’The Last Witch Hunter’ adds good ingredients but undercooks the brew”
Director: Breck Eisner
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie
“The Last Witch Hunter” - Within the first 10 minutes of this Vin Diesel action-picture, a warrior from the 13th Century named Kaulder (Diesel) wields a sword that is also lit on fire while battling a terribly-mean and heavily-scarred witch. Yes, his sword is lit on fire. Ultimately, this entertaining, medieval fight – for reasons I will not give away - left our hero immortal. Fast-forward 800 years, and Kaulder – now comfortably living in The Big Apple in 2015 – spends his working hours extinguishing witches’ spells, but not necessarily extinguishing the witches themselves. A truce between witches and humans was made, and now, Kaulder catches the sorceresses (and sorcerers) who are acting badly and turns them over to a governing body called the Witch Council. The witches are then imprisoned, which makes Kaulder the Last Witch Bounty Hunter, rather than the Last Witch Hunter, but hey, plain old “Hunter” sounds better, right?
Director Breck Eisner has a history with horror (“The Crazies” (2010)) and adventure (“Sahara” (2005)) films, and in “The Last Witch Hunter” he combines both genres. Although the film offers an intriguing premise – as a gifted, eight hundred-year-old being opposes modern-day necromancers – the film’s execution falls victim to clunky storytelling and editing. Fortunately, the filmmakers did not edit out a key supporting player, Dolan 36th (Michael Caine). Dolan 36th is the 36th person to assist Kaulder over the years, and he is the Witch Hunter’s handler, confessor and friend. Caine plays a solid confidant to Kaulder, and very quickly, the comparison between Dolan 36th and his portrayal of Alfred from Christopher Nolan’s recent Batman pictures becomes impossible to ignore. Whenever Caine appears on screen, he seems to give instant credibility to the movie, and he is joined by Elijah Wood and Rose Leslie, who play two sidekicks, like Robin and Batgirl.
As Kaulder attempts to save humanity from an immortal witch, all of the actors do a very good job of putting their best feet forward to play convincing and likable roles, but unfortunately the story’s construction has two left feet. First of all, the film sets up a world where witches live among humans in peace and offers a pseudo-“Men in Black” vibe, but other than one curious scene in a pastry shop – in which you really do not want to know the ingredients – it never really explores this intriguing plot point. The audience never gets to meet a plethora of unusual characters that the movie initially promises, and instead, sees a few glimpses of magic, such as a group of rotten crabapples pretending to be gummy bears.
Speaking of broken promises, the Witch Council has jailed hundreds or thousands of witches over 800 years or so, but we never really see them either. Eisner does show us a “batcave” in which they are imprisoned, but we see exactly zero caged green ladies with pointy hats. Instead, Kaulder plays detective towards clues we really do not understand, makes a new witch friend (Leslie) with whom he suddenly bonds with like magic (pardon the pun), casually talks about how he will save Dolan 36th, and attempts to kill an immortal witch in the movie’s final act.
How exactly does one kill an immortal witch?
If you asked yourself that question, you are not alone. That’s what I clearly wondered and said out loud in a packed, but confused movie theatre. With good performances placed in an undercooked brew, “The Last Witch Hunter” - unfortunately - doesn’t create enough magic. The movie, however, is not a complete waste of time. Hey, there is a sword, and it is lit on fire! (2/4 stars)