Adopting the same mix of shocks and yocks as John Landis’ 1981 London-based scare comedy, “An American Werewolf in Paris” starts off gangbusters as an entertaining, knowing ride but loses its compass midway on. Though it looks unlikely to become a howling success in any one market theatrically, energetic pic should accrue red-blooded returns on a worldwide basis, with a long afterlife in ancillaries. Set for Yank release on Christmas Day, pic opens today in Great Britain.
The movie’s choppy tempo bears witness to extensive testing and subsequent tweaking over a long period (initial shoot was in summer ’96); there’s little spare flesh in the running time, and the mix of absurd comedy, action and f/x is rarely allowed to stand still long enough to congeal. Though pulled together under the banner of London-based sales company and production house J&M Entertainment, it’s a truly international pudding creatively: helmed by a British-trained director with strong German connections (Anthony Waller, of “Mute Witness” fame), acted by a mixed Yank-French cast, shot in Luxembourg, Paris, Amsterdam and New York, f/x-ed largely by California-based Santa Barbara Studios, and with a major dose of German-based talent behind the camera and in post-production.
Operatic main title, swooping down over Notre Dame with Wilbert Hirsch’s “Omen”-like music thundering away, features a man escaping from the sewers of Paris and then being dragged back inside by some unseen beastie. Having staked out its flashy horror territory, pic then cuts to three young Americans at loose in Europe — sensitive romantic Andy (Tom Everett Scott) and his two girl-chasing pals, Brad (Vince Vieluf) and Chris (Phil Buckman).
Clandestinely climbing the Eiffel Tower at night, the trio prepare for Andy’s spectacular “dare” — bungee-jumping from the Parisian landmark. But there’s a fourth person up there, who’s ready to jump without a safety harness: Serafine (Julie Delpy), who stares mournfully at the waxing moon before plummeting into the void, to be saved (in an exhilarating blend of music and effects) by Andy, who jumps after her, only to lose her on the ground.
Finally tracking her down again, Andy invites her out on a date, though from her sudden display of superhuman strength in a cafe and interest in blood-soaked human organs it’s obvious Serafine is not your average French babe. After an action-filled night at a cellar party to welcome the full moon, Andy wakes up in her bed to find tooth marks on his leg — and her news that he’s already halfway to becoming a werewolf.
Up to this point, the movie is an enjoyably trashy blend of impressive special effects, low-key refs to Landis’s movie, and sudden moments of horror breaking the jokey tone. For the next reel, too, Waller manages to crank up the humor and shocks without losing the balance: Andy gets a sudden liking for rare steaks and (in a ref to the Landis) meets his now “undead” friend Brad for a chat.
Thereafter, however, pic progressively careens out of control — largely dumping character and rational plot development in favor of one set piece after another, capped by a series of increasingly frantic climaxes and a bolted-on coda (“several full moons later”) that’s structurally neat but makes no logical sense at all.
While Waller’s cult hit “Mute Witness” was all pregnant atmosphere and not much delivery, “Werewolf” is all delivery and not much pregnant atmosphere. For undiscerning viewers, this may be enough: The impressive, entirely computer-generated werewolves are effectively scary and give the pic an energetic, blatantly genre feel, heightened by Peter Adam’s shock cutting.
But to the movie’s loss, the humor becomes more and more hit-and-miss as events unfold. In the film’s most outrageous joke, Andy publicly seduces a horny American tourist (Julie Bowen) by sticking his newly sensitive nose up her skirt; later on, a straight-faced Serafine tells Andy how her stepfather (the man killed at the start) had almost perfected a drug to suppress her “lycanthropic cycle.” But such laughs unfortunately become rarer as the plot tries to cram in everything from werewolves-bent-on-world-domination to the central love story while keeping all the original characters in the frame.
Scott (“That Thing You Do!”) is OK as Andy but gets most of his acting chances in the first half; ditto the English-fluent Delpy as Serafine, though her attraction to the exasperating hero needs to be taken more on trust than from anything in the script. Vieluf and Buckman are reliable as Andy’s pals. French thesps Thierry Lhermitte and Tom Novembre are mostly limited to mugging in tiny roles, the first as a Clouseau-like doctor, the second as a Maigret clone.
Other technical credits are effective, though color processing ranges from muddy in night and studio work to fine in daytime exteriors. Buffs may note a vague hint in the finished film that Delpy’s character is, in fact, the offspring of David Naughton and Jenny Agutter in “An American Werewolf in London.”