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Outtakes from 'Thriller' video? Hardly

Werewolf factions duke it out in the murky 'Skinwalkers.' Too bad they followed the rules.

August 13, 2007|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

Rules, rules, rules -- they are the undoing of so many genre films. From time-travel pictures to vampire flicks to werewolf movies, whenever filmmakers get bogged down explaining the parameters by which their characters must live and die, the result is usually a morass of confusion and contradictions.

In the horror film "Skinwalkers," starring Jason Behr and Elias Koteas, two factions of werewolves exist among humans, one group believing its condition is a curse, while the other thinks it's a gift.

They battle it out against a ticking clock as the bad werewolves try to stop the good werewolves from unleashing a cure.

There's a lot that remains unclear about the powers and abilities of the creatures in "Skinwalkers," largely robbing the film of tension as events transpire in a slapdash, haphazard manner. Even the simple act of dying -- do they/don't they/how's it happen? -- begets real uncertainty.

The ancient prophesy that drives the narrative commences at the strike of midnight on a boy's 13th birthday -- but is that Greenwich Mean Time or wherever he happens to be? And the film's post-finale coda, presumably meant to set up a sequel, creates more questions then it answers.

For a film directed by veteran visual effects supervisor Jim Isaac, a longtime associate of David Cronenberg, there is a lot of visual illogic and spatial disarray, especially in the fight scenes, which are often clunky and ill-defined.

And while it is commendable that the filmmakers decided to use relatively old-school prosthetics and applications for the werewolf transformations -- by longtime effects wizard Stan Winston's studio -- they leave the creatures looking strangely like leftovers from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.

The contours of "Skinwalkers" could easily mark it as a late-'50s/early-'60s exploitation picture where a gang of bikers rides into a small town and takes over. The film's single best moment comes when an innocent-looking grandma pulls a hand cannon from her carry-all and a mailman takes a shotgun from his mailbag, leading to momentary bewilderment on the part of the audience. Did the projectionist inadvertently slip in a reel from something called "Vigilante Town"? Of course, someone then has to start explaining things, and there are more of those pesky rules, leaving viewers to once again fend off confusion and boredom.

"Skinwalkers." MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In general release.

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