Saturday, April 3, 2004

Reel To Reel:

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Copious Violence, Mild Language

Preconceived Notions: Another comic-book movie. But this one seems like a cross between X-Men and Men In Black.
The Bottom Line: Ron Perlman's performance gives an edge to what would otherwise be just another comic-book film.

Hellboy is not, as a coworker jibed, the life of Chris Francis. It is, however, a hell of a picture easily enjoyable by non-fans of the comic-book series from which it emerged.

Hellboy (Perlman) is a demonic creature raised from the underworld by Nazi dabbling in the paranormal gone wrong, a la Raiders Of The Lost Ark. He is adopted by eccentric paranormal expert Dr. Broom (Hurt), who raises him to be more angel than devil as part of a super-secret Bureau Of Paranormal Research and Defense. There are no Men in Black, but there is a fish in blue -- mer-man Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). There's also Liz Sherman, Hellboy's flame in more ways than one. And there's Hellboy's keeper, FBI man Meyers (Rupert Johnson), who's got something for the girl, wouldn't you know.

Perlman's character may file down his horns, but his wisecracks are pinpoint sharp. He enjoys cigars, cats, Baby Ruth candy bars and food in mass quantities (something he must've picked up from a Conehead or two). And while he's stone-fisted, he's also soft-hearted.

Hellboy's mission is stopping the evil Rasputin from bringing about the apocalypse through a wormhole to the dark side of the universe. The first attempt with the Nazis failed, but Hellboy slipped through as a cute little devil. Now Rasputin needs Hellboy's help, notably his repressed evil side, to do it. He also needs the help of hundreds of Alien-esque monsters who only multiply when you kill them.

Director Guillermo del Toro was determined not to let this picture turn into one of his earlier films, the disappointing Mimic. He got his way, and we get an above-average picture out of it. And it's mainly because both del Toro and Perlman realize one key fact: comic-book films, good ones, must possess a human factor we can all relate to. Perlman does a lot of acting under that red suit.

Yet I feel some of the picture's backstory could've been stronger. In the comic-book series, Hellboy is raised with a Christian upbringing, and while there are plenty of hints of it, I didn't think it was set up well enough. I would've liked to have seen more of how Dr. Broom raised "Red" into someone who fights evil while containing the evil within him. I know you have to review a film for what it is, rather than what you want it to be, but I felt there could be more.

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