I recently learned a valuable trick when it comes to reviewing comic book-based movies. So much time and effort goes into recreating the look and tone of the comic book, often at the expense of the screenplay. Celluloid Comic book pages are just as flat unless you care about the characters who inhabit them.

So while watching “Hellboy,” I closed my eyes and experienced the movie without the visual influences and manipulation. Guess what? It sucked. The dialogue is cornier than a Kansas farm field, nothing more than rudimentary exchanges serving as emotional toll bridges from one action scene to the next.

“Hellboy” reminded me of a cross between “Ghostbusters,” “The Men In Black,” and “X-Men,” where top secret government agencies uses freaks of nature to stop the illegal immigration of otherworldly creatures. In this case, the government’s all-star is “Hellboy” (Ron Perlman), the byproduct of a World War II Nazi experiment.

Raised by Professor Broom (John Hurt), founder of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, as his own son, Hellboy lives within the top secret confines of the Bureau, ready to spring into action when evil comes knocking. Aided by a telepathic Mer-Man (Doug Jones) and a pyro-kinetic girlfriend (Selma Blair), Hellboy keeps the various influences of evil in line.

They have their job cut out for them when an ancient evil returns to fulfill the apocalypse, using Hellboy as the link to open the gates of hell.

“Hellboy” looks great, but is less filling. The characters rampage from one beastly encounter to the next, stopping long enough to fulfill the most basic back story requirements. We only learn what is necessary to distinguish between them. Nothing more. One is dying. One is misunderstood. One is a tortured soul. One is filled with doubt. The characters are nothing more than sacrificial lambs to the constant stream of computer generated monsters.

I’ve always been a fan of writer-director Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Mimic). Working with a limited budget, he does an admirable job of capturing the dark and brooding world of Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse comic. Most of the action takes place at night and leaves you feeling a constant sense of dread. Good reason. It’s into this world that the Nazis, with the help of an unstoppable Russian seer, plan to unleash an evil that will lead the world into eternal darkness. Even though their plans are foiled by the allies, the experiment spews forth “Hellboy,” who ends up working for the good guys.

He also looks remarkably like Perlman (Beauty & The Beast) in red make-up with two sawed-off rhino horns glued to his forehead. Perlman is the story’s tortured soul, leading a conflicted existence. Professor Broom is the kindly Obi-Wan Kenobi of the paranormal set, a man who knows time is against him but carries on for the sake of his adopted son. We’re supposed to feel a paternal connection and sense of loss between Broom and Hellboy, but all I experienced was a trite plot advancement device.

If del Toro had spent as much time on the screenplay as he did on the film’s unique look, “Hellboy” might have escaped the inevitable pitfalls of turning comic book frames into film frames. Once the action leaps into present day New York, it becomes nothing more than an escalating series of chases and deadly encounters with squid-like creatures who lay eggs faster than the Spice Girls.

Action isn’t a bad thing, but it has to be offset with moments of clarity and reason. Two relentless hours of punching and kicking isn’t entertainment, it’s an endurance test. It’s always fun to kick around the Third Reich, but the heroes get even less respect. Selma Blair fails to give off a spark, even though her character can start fires, while Doug Jones’s Mer-Man would cause poor Jessica Simpson’s head to explode. Is he a fish, a man, a mermaid, and does he taste like chicken?

With more brimstone and less treacle, “Hellboy” could grow up to be “Hellman.”

Hell Is For Heroes

Celluloid Comic Book Looks Great, Less Filling


Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Karel Roden, Rupert Evans. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Rated PG-13. 122 Minutes.


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