French cinema seems to be getting more and more American of late -- more violent, crass and prone to the sensational. In "Brotherhood of the Wolf," director Christophe Gans brings the trend to fruition with the first French period-costume, CGI-assisted, martial-arts, creature-feature epic.
It's 1764, and a mysterious beast is turning the peasants of the Gévaudan region into heaps of muddy, uneducated steak tartare. The king dispatches royal naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his stoic Native American companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos), to the region to get to the bottom of the killings. Once there, they quickly reveal that they parlez-vous kung fu by beating the provincial crap out of some peasants (in the first of many over-the-top fight scenes).
Surly peasants are the least of their worries. Gévaudan is run by a clutch of sullen well-borns, led by swashbuckling, one-armed scion Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel) and his fresh-faced sister, Marianne (Emilie Dequenne). Then there's the beast, believed by locals to be a large wolf but in fact something much more sinister and outlandish, as Fronsac and Mani discover after administering more Hong Kong-style beatdowns.
"Brotherhood of the Wolf" is a deeply silly movie, but engagingly so, perhaps thanks to its French accent. There's something charmingly continental about the way Fronsac woos proper beauty Marianne while simultaneously and unapologetically getting his baguette warmed each night by witchy courtesan Sylvia ("Malena"'s toothsome Monica Bellucci). The story is far too winding and dimwitted; the beast itself is a disappointment on several levels, and Gans is more concerned with style than sense. (During a lavishly shot target-practice sequence, the beast hunters are seen firing directly toward the manor house.) But when you've got call-of-the-wild hoodoo, would-be incest, the French ancestors of the family from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and telescoping-sword-fu (!) all crammed into a sort of Gallic take on monster schlock like "The Relic" and "Deep Rising" -- well, that's entertainment.