Movie: Hellboy

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On paper, having directed "Blade II" might appear to be Guillermo del Toro's most relevant qualification for bringing Mike Mignola's cult comic "Hellboy" to the screen. But what the picture could use is more in common with del Toro's "The Devil's Backbone," one of the greatest filmed ghost stories of the last 10 years. Instead of revisiting that art-house miracle, the moviemaker fashions Mignola's monster-hunting franchise into a kind of neo-"Ghostbusters," with its plucked-from-heck protagonist (Ron Perlman) hurtling through museums and subways to battle mythic creatures bent on bringing about the apocalypse. Opting for spectacle when it should be skulking in the shadows, the movie still has its share of transcendent moments, thanks to the amiable wackiness of the basic concept -- occult dabbling wins the world a champion paranormal investigator -- and an involving lead performance that holds our interest through the script's too-frequent dead ends. Discerning that the only sane way to approach the role of a gruff, trench-coated demon is to underplay it, Perlman makes Hellboy a nonchalant cynic, mopping up otherworldly messes with the same composed, "It figures" attitude we'd bring to any job we'd been doing for decades. The character he's created will surely be remembered, even if his movie isn't.

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