Monday, March 23, 2015

WolfCop (2014)

One of the perks of being a genre fan is that, ever so often, a movie comes along that you're certain was made especially with you in mind. Sometimes you realize this during something like the containment purge sequence of The Cabin in the Woods. Other times it's a promising concept that still requires a trailer to fully sell you, like Pacific Rim. And other times the concept is so beautiful you have to see it, even before you see a mostly promising trailer.

Naturally that brings us to 2014's Canadian horror comedy, WolfCop. Given the film was at least partially crowdfunded, you could argue it's the most literal example of "made for genre fans" you can imagine. I mean, just look at the basic concept and tell me it doesn't sound like it was made for me: a loser deputy becomes a werewolf and uses his new found powers to fight crime.

I was so sold that, even though I know that werewolf movies are often awful, I came this close to buying it on Blu-ray, sight unseen. And since I've become a father, that particular dangerous impulse has become a lot easier to curb.

Sadly, I am forced to report it's a good thing I have this newfound self control.

The town of Woodhaven used to be a pretty nice place to settle, apparently, but these days it's a dump whose biggest business is Liquor Donuts ("What more could you want?" is their slogan) and its only claim to fame is its annual "Drink'N'Shoot" and the legendary "Woodhaven walking bear" (as opposed to a crawling bear, I suppose), a local equivalent of Bigfoot. It's also overrun by gang activity--most notoriously The Piggies, a bunch of goons in pig masks--and meth dealers. The local Sheriff's department is considered an impotent joke, but that may be because the whole department appears to be staffed by two deputies: Sergeant Lou Garou (Leo Fafard, and yes that really is the name they gave him) and Sergeant Tina (Amy Matysio). Tina is a marvelously competent cop, as evidenced by the "Officer of the Month" plaque that has her name engraved under every month.

Lou is a completely other story, however. We're introduced to him as he wakes up late in his filthy house--note the fish tank with a beer bottle in it--next to some half-naked woman he clearly doesn't know, and downs another bottle of beer before stumbling out to his patrol car and dropping his gun under it. It's not exactly surprising that crime is pretty much unopposed in Woodhaven, is it?

The Chief (Aiden Devine), who doesn't actually seem to be the Sheriff, is well aware of Lou's bumbling alcoholism on the job, but doesn't seem in any hurry to fire him despite chastising him in front of everyone whenever he can. It's uncertain if this is more because of the fact that the Chief can't find anybody else to take his place or because Lou's father used to be one of Woodhaven's finest and the Chief is still hoping Lou will somehow straighten up and make his father's legacy proud.

That doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon, though. Sure, Lou makes a token appearance in the office to relieve Tina from her night shift and he does actually go to investigate a disturbance call from his friend Willie Higgins (Jonathan Cherry), the town's local gun shop owner and resident conspiracy theorist. But as soon as Lou concludes that the footage of "Satanic activity" that Willie shows him as an explanation for all the missing pets of late is actually a bunch of teenage metalheads having a party in the woods, he heads right to the Tooth and Nail. As you might imagine, the Tooth and Nail is the local bar and its current proprietor is the far-too-hot-to-be-a-backwater-barkeep Jessica (Sarah Lind), but we'll later find out it used to be run by Tina's father.

The bar quickly is invaded by two unwelcome intruders. The first is an unnamed local crime boss (Jesse Moss), I'll call him Teardrop due to the tattoo on his face, who harasses a few patrons in full view of Lou and then settles into a corner booth with his lackeys. The second is Terry Wallace (Ryland Alexander), a young politician seeking to be the first person to run against incumbent Mayor Bradley (Corinne Conley) in a long time. Poor Terry and his megaphone are booed right out of the joint, though.

However, that won't be the biggest obstacle to Terry's political career. When Lou decides to go investigate another disturbance call in the woods outside town, he finds Terry hung upside down from a tree. Terry has just enough strength to warn Lou that someone's behind him, but it's too late--Lou is clubbed over the head by someone in a hooded robe and plague doctor mask.

He wakes up in is own bed, but something is clearly amiss. He gets flashes of mysterious robed and masked figures surrounding him and carving an inverted pentagram into his chest, like something from a half-remembered dream. It's probably not a good sign that he actually does have an inverted pentagram carved onto chest, and the fact that his stubble immediately grows back before his eyes when he tries to shave is a bit weird. Even weirder is that as soon as he steps outside, he is overwhelmed by sounds he shouldn't be able to hear and smells he shouldn't be able to perceive.

Worse than that, he's immediately called to the woods where Terry Wallace has been found with his throat torn out and thoroughly exsanguinated. Terry may not be hanging from a tree any more, but it's understandable that Lou is a bit reluctant to mention what little he remembers of the previous night. The Coroner (James Whittingham) rules it an animal attack. The Chief is reluctant to release the information to the public, but Mayor Bradley promptly goes on the local news where she announces that The Drink'N'Shoot will be canceled due to the concern for public safety. So, amazingly, you can't accuse the film of going the expected Jaws route.

Tina offhandedly asks Lou if he can remember when the last time The Drink'N'Shoot was canceled. That gets the detective gears in Lou's head to start grinding again, rusty though they may be. As a matter of fact, the Drink'N'Shoot seems to get canceled in a clear pattern: once every 32 years. Even more bizarrely, Lou seems to think it is somehow related to the upcoming solar eclipse. Mind you, whatever lead Lou is following is not enough to keep him from warming his seat at the bar. And, for some reason, Jessica decides that that night is a good time to close early so she can set up a fling with Lou after getting him roaring drunk.

Unfortunately, it's a full moon and Lou is suddenly overcome with nausea and has to rush downstairs to the men's room. Jessica, still oddly committed to sleeping with a guy who was seconds away from puking on himself and her, decides to amuse herself while she waits by playing a song on the jukebox and sweeping up. Thus she doesn't notice three henchmen sent by Teardrop who sneak into the bar with baseball bats to head down to the bathroom after Lou. Naturally, this is a mistake on their part, because Lou has just been struck by his first werewolf transformation.

"Oh my God! I thought that was just an old wife's tale!"
Now, this is one of the oddest aspects of the film. Lou doesn't turn into an actual wolf or even a bipedal wolf, like in The Howling or Dog Soldiers. He just turns into the sort of wolfman you expect to see in a Lon Chaney, Jr. or Paul Naschy film. Yet, his transformation involves his human skin tearing apart and being shed to reveal the werewolf underneath, with all the gore and slime you'd expect from that. It doesn't really seem to fit. Even worse, this first transformation starts off with Lou urinating, the urine turning to blood, and then a prosthetic of his penis bursting like a hot dog in a microwave to reveal a completely furry one (!) underneath. I'm sure it will please the kind of people who love Troma films, but it struck me as a bit much.

Well, now that Lou Garou has lived up to his name, the goons that were after him naturally don't fare too well. The first two he messily takes apart, the third just gets his short torn off and flees. Jessica goes to investigate, but a glimpse of Wolf Lou sends her running and screaming, too. However, we'll soon see it wasn't to the nearest phone. Meanwhile, the goon who returns to Teardrop emptyhanded gets his eye stabbed out as punishment for his failure, as Teardrop is unmoved by the man's insistence that Lou turned into a wolf.

Lou wakes up, naked but for his underwear, and cuffed to an unfamiliar bedframe with fuzzy handcuffs with a dog sitting on him. It turns out he's in Willie's apartment, as Willie greets him with the not at all alarming, "How's your butt?" This will actually prove to be a non-sequitur, because when Willie gleefully shows Lou the footage of how he tranqed the werewolf version of him, the darts we see are only in Lou's upper back. Lou is understandably skeptical, even when Willie serves him scrambled eggs and Lou promptly chokes on them because Willie seasoned them with wolfsbane, which is for werewolves what garlic is for vampires.

Luckily, Willie helpfully washed Lou's uniform--which was very bloody, he notes--because Lou's wolf senses tell him Tina has just arrived to pick him up. In one of the many ways this film's plotting is poorly constructed, you'll note that Lou at some point in the previous sequence has suddenly just accepted he is a werewolf. Tina takes him to the murder scene at the bar, where she notes that among the corpses is a chunk of skin that sure looks a lot like Lou's face. She just uses that to mock Lou, though, and not to conclude he is involved. Lou raises her suspicions when he offers to cover the rest of her shift, which he never does, However, she can't detect any obvious ulterior motive and agrees.

In the meantime, Lou hits the local library to comb through past articles on The Drink'N'Shoot. You wouldn't think he'd need to do this, however, because what he uncovers is that his father went missing after Tina's father was killed under bizarre circumstances and then his father was found dead days later. Per the article, Lou was ten at the time and you wouldn't think that even a perpetual drunk could forget how his father mysteriously died when he was ten years old. Lou then finds an Occult Mythology book (by shouting at the librarian, "Hey, you got any books on Devil Worship?") and checks it out so he can go over it with Willie.

According to the book, a werewolf is created by choosing a person--usually the "village idiot" so ythe creature is easier to contain--and cutting the pentagram into their chest before draining the blood of a sacrifice onto them. Then, at the time of the solar eclipse, when the werewolf will be weakest, it is ritually killed and drained entirely of blood. The blood is then either imbibed while fresh or crystalized for later use. Who would want to drink werewolf blood? Why, shapeshifters, of course--the blood of a werewolf maintains their unnaturally long lifespan. If you're anything like me, you'll note that the picture of a shapeshifter in the book is a lizard man and begin immediately hoping for a climactic lizard man vs. werewolf throwdown.

Lou's plan for that evening is to lock himself in a jail cell, while Willie films his transformation for science. Tina walk in on this plan, but Lou somehow convinces her that what he's doing makes sense and gets her to leave before his transformation hits. Once it does, Lou immediately demands Willie provide him the nearby huge bottle of whiskey and box of donuts, both courtesy of Liquor Donuts, of course. After that he's pretty relaxed in the cell, until a call comes in. Over Willie's objections, Lou suddenly feels a need to fulfill his "Protect and Serve" duties by responding to the call of a robbery at Liquor Donuts.

Thus, Willie is dragged along as WolfCop makes his debut. Three of The Piggies are robbing the joint, and the leader sends his subordinates to run crates of liquor to their van--where they are intercepted and killed by Lou. Lou charges in to deal with the last Piggie and we get the exchange that almost makes the whole film worth watching by itself:

Piggie: "What the fuck are you?"
WolfCop: "The fuzz."

Lou decides to not kill the last Piggie after a hostage standoff ends with the criminal fainting in fright. As he departs Liquor Donuts to return to his car, Willie amusingly implores him to hurry with, "Why don't you kill someone else on the way to the car?" After Lou's wolf strength causes him to pull the driver's side door off his car, he gets the idea to go into the nearby body shop and...customize his car. Weirdly this mainly involves festooning it with various "W" symbols, turning the light on top so it runs lengthwise instead of crosswise, and most noticeably not replacing the driver's door.

WolfCop's next stop is to pee on some taggers (!) before driving out to a barn in the countryside that houses a meth lab. It's also where we just saw Teardrop snorting some kind of red, crystalline powder. Hmm, could Teardrop be one of the shapeshifters that turned Lou into WolfCop? Well, luckily for Teardrop, he's not there when WolfCop bashes into the barn and begins shredding Teardrop's henchmen. The highlight of this is definitely the guy who gets his face ripped off, whereupon WolfCop throws the face onto his windshield and Willie's freaked out eaction is to try and get it off with the windshield wipers.

Eventually, WolfCop departs just ahead of the meth lab he smashed exploding and obliterating the barn. This is actually a really good effect, but also a delightfully obvious miniature.

Meanwhile, Tina and the Chief are completely baffled when they get to Liquor Donuts, because the only description they can get out of the witnesses is, "It was a big Wolf Cop!" Dawn is approaching so WolfCop and Willie return to the police station...where Jessica is waiting, dressed up like sexy Red Riding Hood. Wait, what? Jessica immediately intimates that she wants to WolfCop to do a little huffing and puffing, if you know what I mean. Bizarrely, Willie objects to this--I say bizarrely, because his objection is only that WolfCop might be too strong and pose a danger to Jessica. The fact that Jessica somehow knows that Lou is a werewolf and is not just cool with it but turned on by it, doesn't strike either man as really damn bizarre.

"What? You didn't know most bartenders are into furries?"
WolfCop tells Willie in no uncertain terms to go wait outside, and then he and Jessica bang in the jail cell, which is set to music only slightly less appropriate than the use of "Hallelujah" in Watchmen. This is a bizarrely tasteful scene for a film that earlier featured exploding genitals (well, as tasteful as a guy in a werewolf suit simulating sex with a naked woman can be), and while it's definitely another excuse to flash some breasts at the audience it doesn't seem to be played for any obvious joke. You'd expect it to be as broad as possible, and the lead-up with the expected "what big eyes you have" joke certainly is, but unless we were just expected to find the sequence funny on the mere basis of it being a love scene with a wolfman, I can't be certain it was actually meant to be a joke. As my girlfriend observed, you kind of get the feeling somebody involved in the film's production really wanted this scene to happen for, um, personal reasons.

Afterwards, Jessica naturally covers herself in a sheet like it's a dress while they both enjoy afterglow cigarettes. Jessica comments that she's really glad that she waited to sleep with "this better version of you." WolfCop is completely okay with being told that, so suck on your lesson about embracing your true self, Teen Wolf!

Except that Jessica then puts the horse tranquilizer that Willie brought Lou earlier into WolfCop's drink. As it takes effect, Jessica suddenly changes into Mayor Bradley. Yep, Jessica and Mayor Bradley are not only the same person--which must mean that being Mayor of Woodhaven is incredibly easy if she has time to be a sexy bartender on the side--but she is a shapeshifter. Oh, and Willie was also in on the conspiracy all along, too. In fact, he warns her that Lou is stronger than the other werewolves, maybe because of the alcoholism. Mayor Bradley chastises him for having grown attached to Lou* and then makes him destroy the tape he earlier made of Lou's transformation, as there can't be any evidence. Somehow, neither conspirator notices the obvious security camera pointed right at the jail cell.

[* One of the weirder things throughout the film is the implication that Willie and Lou might be attracted to each other, but with Willie being a bit more interested than Lou. It's clearly deliberate, but it ultimately comes to absolutely nothing. Which is a real shame, because the two have way more sexual chemistry than Lou and Jessica]

Tina arrives at the station after Lou has already been taken to where the shapeshifters intend to sacrifice him, with their surviving human goons standing watch. For some reason after Tina reviews the security camera footage, she figures out that she needs to load up with guns and ammo and head to the woods where her father's body was found before the solar eclipse takes place. And holy crap, the solar eclipse is an unnecessarily embarrassing CGI effect. Here's a tip for filmmakers: you can't actually see the details of the moon during an eclipse, so just making a featureless black silhouette of the moon is actually more convincing.

Lou wakes up chained to a tree, and discovers that there are three shapeshifters looming over him: Willie (who is also the Coroner), Jessica (who is also Mayor Bradley), and Teardrop (who is also, dun dun dun, the Chief). The three have been creating and sacrificing werewolves in Woodhaven for ages, the last time around Lou's father and Tina's father were their chosen victims. And whatever feelings Willie may have toward Lou, they aren't enough to stop him from going through with the ritual.

Luckily, Tina arrives just as Lou transforms into a werewolf during the eclipse--and despite the earlier talk about him being at his weakest, we don't see any evidence of that here--and Mayor Bradley stabs him with a sword so Willie can collect the blood in a goblet. As the shapeshifters sip from the goblet, Tina makes her move by first shooting the one-eyed henchman in his remaining eye. She then shoots Willie in the head, whereupon he falls down and transforms into his true reptilian form.

I'm going to go ahead and break your heart right now. Despite the fact that the shapeshifters' lizard faces are obviously either masks or props, albeit pretty good ones, they only turn into lizard people after they have been killed. This made me more upset at the movie than any of its other missed opportunities because you do not go out of your way to show me a lizardman and then fail to have it fight your werewolf! Haven't the filmmakers ever heard of Chekov's lizardman?!

It also doesn't help that the combination of the red filter and the fact that it's taking place in the woods immediately makes the climax remind me of Versus. That's a really hard movie to top (just ask Ryuhei Kitamura; he hasn't been able to manage it), especially since its climax was a badass sword fight between two undead superhumans. Meanwhile, even after WolfCop beaks free and guzzles a flask like Popeye gobbles spinach, this climax is just a bunch of people shooting at each other--for some reason Teardrop/Chief carries a blunderbuss--and a brief physical scuffle between Tina and Jessica. So it's not even close to the awesomeness of the movie it will inevitably remind many genre fans of. Eventually all the bad guys are dead and WolfCop is free to carry on his crusade of justice.

Oh, and as the terrible "WolfCop" rap theme plays, the film ends by announcing WolfCop II will be coming in 2015. Which, as we all know, is about the surest way to guarantee there will never be a sequel. There's also a credit cookie involving WolfCop taking revenge on an abusive dog owner that's not even worth getting into.

"I came here to kick ass and lick myself; and I'm all out of spit."
I really hate a wasted concept, so I've probably been even harsher on this film than it deserves. The problem with WolfCop isn't that it's terrible. I mean, that would definitely be a bad thing, but the trouble with WolfCop is that it takes a stellar concept and proceeds to settle for mediocrity. As you might expect, for instance, if you've seen the trailer you've basically seen the best parts of the movie. Stephen Colbert once joked that movies are "watered-down trailers" and this is the sort of movie where that statement is genuinely accurate.

Hell, if I didn't know better, I'd assume the trailer was made before the movie. I touched on earlier that character motivations and decisions often make no sense or characters have to make impressive leaps of logic. That's clearly because the filmmakers had a lot of genuinely good set pieces in mind--not counting the fairly dull climax--but had no idea how to bridge the sections in between. And the reveal that several characters were actually manipulating things all along doesn't make it better. For a reveal like that to work, you need to be able to look back and go, "Oh yeah, so that's why they did that!" If you look back at this film while knowing its ending, it still doesn't make sense.

Is WolfCop a waste of time? I wouldn't say that. I definitely got more than a few laughs out of it, and there are some great bits like the face-ripping I mentioned earlier. The cast is definitely solid, with nary a bad performance in the bunch, and the make-up effects are mostly good--even if the transformation scenes are more silly than impressive. And then there's the Lou/Willie relationship that threatens to become genuinely interesting before the film's twist forces them to drop it--which is really gonna hurt the sequel. I mean, imagine if Willie had turned to Lou's side and helped him defeat the other shapeshifters before becoming his sidekick. WolfCop and Lizard Dude would definitely make me give this "franchise" another chance.

If you're a huge werewolf fan or a big into horror comedies, I wouldn't say you should rush out and see WolfCop, but I also wouldn't say to avoid it at all costs. It's not terrible, but in the end it's a movie that I don't regret watching but doubt that I'd ever get the urge to watch ever again. Considering how much I love werewolves, that ought to tell you something.

1 comment:

  1. To add injury to the insult of a wasted premise, this was the last film made in the province of Saskatchewan before a politically-motivated removal of the sort of tax film credit pretty much everywhere else in North America has took full effect, which effectively shuttered the industry. It's not even representative of the sort of genre stuff that got made here, some of which one could actually describe as pretty good (The Messengers and Surveillance spring to mind).

    WolfCop was hyped MADLY here from the day the film-makers got involved in the internet popularity contest that got it its funding onwards, and I'm sorry to say (because I'm also a big fan of celluloid lycanthropy) that the film as you describe it is pretty much exactly what I was expecting from the promises being made. Those expectations are also what have kept me from watching it myself; the guarded endorsement you finish with might see me move it from the "Avoid" list to "If Nothing Good Is On."