Brotherhood of the Wolf (French)

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If you combined “Jaws” with “Dangerous Liaisons,” threw in a dash of “JFK,” and filtered the whole thing through “The Matrix,” you’d have something like “Brotherhood of the Wolf,” a horror/period/conspiracy/action flick that is at once altogether original and strangely familiar.

It takes place in 1764, with a mysterious wolf-like beast killing women and children on the French countryside. King Louis XV sends Gregoir de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his taciturn American Indian partner Mani (Mark Dacascos) to find, capture and study the thing, whatever it is, and they encounter a whole slew of poofy Frenchmen, most of whom we won’t bother describing.

We will mention, though, Jean-Francois de Morangias (Vincent Cassel), a one-armed pessimist; and his sister, Emilie (Marianne de Morangias), who serves as Fronsac’s immediate love interest. There is also a good guy (mostly), one Thomas D’Apcher (Jeremie Renier), a nobleman with a pure heart.

But this is not just a movie about some people hunting down a monster. No, this is also a movie about an American Indian kicking the living crap out of people. Inordinate amounts of time are devoted to Mani fighting various groups of people; these sequences are filmed almost lovingly. You figure, there must be some reason why they’d spend this much time on nothing more than a fight. You’d be wrong, I think, but you’d figure it, anyway.

It’s also a movie with a brothel in which one of the whores is also well-versed in the art of divination. Your guess is as good as mine. Eventually, we see the monster. Director Christophe Gans (who co-wrote with Stephane Cabel) is wise to follow to follow the example of “Jaws” and not show it to us until late in the film. He is unwise, however, to make use of such cheap CGI to create it. The monster looks awful. It’s a let-down.

There are also too many false climaxes in the film. Just when it ought to be wrapping up, it produces some saucy new revelation or ludicrous plot twist. We can laugh at a ridiculous movie for only so long before it stops being ridiculous and starts being tiresome.

The film is so thickly stylized, you can barely hack your way through it. Gans works overtime with cinematographer Joseph LoDuca to make everything look dreamy, eye-catching and bold. There are three editors credited, and each did enough work for one movie, in terms of form-cuts, jump-cuts, slow-motion effects and other folderol. It’s a gorgeous film to look at.

“Brotherhood of the Wolf” has no idea how silly it is. Movies about monsters either need to be aware that we’ve seen plenty of movies about monsters before, or else they need to be highly believable and realistic. This one overlooks both options, instead muddying the monster waters with cover-ups and conspiracies that don’t amount to much. All of that, and the film’s inability to end the story when it should end, detract from what could otherwise be a stylish, satisfying thriller.

C+ (; R, abundant nudity, some sexuality, abundant violence.)

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