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Movie Reviews : Witchcraft Without the Craft in 'Warlock'

January 17, 1991|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

The devil finds work for idle hands. While watching "Warlock," (citywide), a supernatural shocker about "Satan's son" running amok, you may wish those hands had been much idler.

The movie begins in Boston, during the witch hunts, a social phenomenon of which the filmmakers seems to approve, and time-warps over to modern Los Angeles and back to Boston. Yet, during all of its demonic high jinks--the trail of eye-gougings and child-murders which the killingly suave warlock leaves in his wake--not a trace of originality is allowed to interfere.

No wit or humanity, or even any genuine horror, intrudes on the mechanical chases, the plastic plot twists. We are not in Milton's or Dante's infernos, but something more mundane: Satan-Land as it might have been envisioned for a Coral Gables fun-fair .

The basic story is somewhat like "The Terminator," with villain and pursuer emerging from the past rather than the future. The variations are uninspired, lusterless. Whenever director Steve Miner and writer D. T. Twohy sense boredom, they chop off a finger, bite off somebody's tongue or tear open a grave.

Actors Julian Sands (the Warlock) and Richard E. Grant (his Witchhunter) deliver their over-fruity lines with the fervor of Shakespearean hams spraying everybody in the first five rows. The cinematography is drab and dark, even in daylight, and the special effects seem almost shy. Only Jerry Goldsmith's music, crashing away as it has from "The Omen" on, generates any real tension.

The romantic interest, Lori Singer, supposedly a tough little L. A. street cookie, has been handed enough misfiring wisecracks to sink the careers of three talk show hosts. Even the look of her character is odd: she resembles Rosanna Arquette trying to pass herself off as Daryl Hannah, in a wardrobe intended for Madonna.

Like the teen-sex slasher-horror pics of the '80s--in which director Miner ("Friday the 13th, Pts. 2-3") was schooled, "Warlock" continually sets us scenes with heavy sexual undercurrents and explodes them into insane violence. In between the tease and slaughter is an uninspired travelogue which presents L.A. as a place where people cower in their houses, read the Weekly and drive to airports; Boston as a place full of churches, garbage and Celtics fans; and the rest of the country as a big farm in between.

"Warlock" (MPAA rated R, for language and violence) is supposedly about the battle between Good and Evil, but movies about the battle between Heckle and Jeckle have more terror or profundity.

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