A correction was made to this review on Oct. 8, 2004.
Frankly, the idea of an updated Frankenstein — offering a “contemporary vision” and set in New Orleans — sounded perfectly deadly. Yet this prototype for a possible series, combining “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” director Marcus Nispel and “The X-Files” alum John Shiban, sparks to surprising life — a moody, visually arresting piece reminiscent of the 1980s CBS series “Beauty and the Beast.” With USA still riding high off its summer performance with the less compelling “The 4400,” this latest sci-fi creation seems a suitable fit, assuming purists can get past liberties taken with the source material.
Loaded with atmosphere (including a creepy title theme from composer Angelo Badalamenti), the story flips the Frankenstein mythos on its head, transforming the doctor into an ageless, malevolent villain and his monster — one of several prowling the streets — into a hooded avenger with a rich voice and a noble soul.
Moreover, even the tired conceit of having two cops drive the action benefits from the against-type casting of Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg, who are hunting a Jack the Ripper-like killer who appears to be harvesting organs.
Frustrating as the investigation is, it gets decidedly worse when one of the victims turns out to be something more than human — an improved model, as it were, with two hearts and a bone structure like concrete.
Enter the monster, Deucalion (the impressive Vincent Perez), who explains to Posey’s character that the Frankenstein tale is a myth based on reality and the murderer they seek is “like me. Not made of God.”
Rather, both the victim and killer are progeny of Victor Helios (“The Pianist’s” Thomas Kretschmann), who has found a way to forestall his own death for 200 years. The good doctor’s handiwork includes his better-than-human bride (Ivana Milicevic, the fantasy girl from “Mind of the Married Man”), whom he periodically tunes up like a vintage car.
Ultimately, the title proves something of a misnomer, since this production is stitched together from various parts — running the gamut from “Alien” to “X-Files,” including the fact that the cops spend a lot of time walking down dark hallways clutching flashlights. In essence, the producers have taken the original “Frankenstein” (also the subject of a well-made Hallmark movie this month) and added intriguing twists to the lore, in much the way the WB’s “Smallville” deftly reimagined the Superman mythology.
Even working on a made-for-TV budget, Nispel provides plenty of striking imagery, giving the film a truly distinctive look. And while the climax is somewhat disappointing, the brisk story until then leaves ample room to speculate as to where a series would go with Helios’ creations roaming the Earth.
So come on, USA. Charge up the batteries and keep this baby alive.